Some years back I wrote an essay called Learning The Language. The piece reflected on my experiences living abroad, learning to navigate a foreign country and culture with a somewhat limited grasp on the language.
The essay wasn’t so much about learning to speak a foreign language, as it was about learning who I was (and who I was not) in the context of that new environment but also in the context of the world and my life.
I was in my twenties, recently graduated from college, recently married. I was trying to find my place in the world, as if my identity were a destination. But now I know that identity is not a destination, but rather a journey.
Identity is fluid, not finite. And that is very good news! It means we can change our minds, make different choices, and consciously move in the direction we want to go next.
In this age of accelerated change, our roles are continually shifting, sometimes without our permission, other times by choice. How much will the world change in a person’s lifetime if she lives to be 90 or 100? Quite a lot. So, in a sense, we will always be Learning the Language.
Since she was very small my granddaughter Evalyn enjoyed painting with me in my studio. Over the years I’ve seen her creations evolve from messy blobs of black and red watercolors to quite sophisticated sketches and designs.
One day when she was maybe four, I took her to visit a friend of mine at his art gallery. I introduced them, “This is my friend Stan. Stan is an artist.”
Evalyn gasped. “I’m an artist too! And so is grandma!” she exclaimed. The label artist was something that connected the three of us, a shared identity. Oh, the wisdom of children!