Well, for the first time, I am a published author! Kind of. I got the opportunity to submit a cultural reflection essay for publication on the ECU Literary Blog, and they liked it, so it is now on the page! I am so happy, and God receives all of the glory for this experience. I thought I might post it on here, in order for you to see what you think. This is a paper all about me, and what makes me who I am. I hope you can relate to some of the ideas in this work. This started as an assignment in Ethnic Literature, so some of these references are from our textbook. I found this paper pretty therapeutic, so I hope you all appreciate it. Have a wonderful day, folks.
Here it is:
Why Being Lost is Okay: My Story
To be totally honest, I am really not sure who I am, or why I am here. As I thought through ideas for this reflection paper, I was thrust into a great existential crisis of sorts. I don’t really know who I am or where I am from, so naturally, reflecting on my ethnic origins would be difficult. As far as I know, I am of both Eastern European and Choctaw descent, with a little bit of Nova Scotian thrown in for good measure. My family has been in America for a couple hundred years, since before the Civil War, so a lot of my Non-American ancestors lie so deep in my lineage that they are really untraceable. My seeming ignorance of my heritage was brought forward as this assignment was put before me, and I am sad that I didn’t contemplate what makes me who I am a little earlier on in life. As a part of this reflection, I decided to think over some family traditions that have shaped my upbringing, some major ideas that have helped me grow into the man I am today, and some beliefs I held that being in a diverse area have challenged greatly. I have learned a great amount about myself and my “culture” in the last few weeks, and I hope to make my life more transparent in the next few pages.
In order to better understand who I am today as a nineteen year old college student, you must first understand some of the traditions and beliefs that my family adheres to. We are a family that believes strongly in the Christian faith, each and every one of us pursuing Jesus and a life full of love for Him and others. Normally, I imagine that my personal beliefs wouldn’t be very well accepted in a paper, but as this is telling you about who I am, I feel it most important to tell you who I care about the most. I have been a Christ follower for over ten years, so naturally my love for Jesus and other people really has a great influence on my life. I have really been battling recently with what I believe and how I believe it, but I really do feel like Christian faith, if expressed in love, really is a beautiful belief. If I didn’t pursue my theological beliefs like I do, I would be unsure of what to do with myself. I also have struggled recently with the idea of acceptance and love, in terms of religious v. non-religious. I am learning that people sometimes are all-too-critical of others, when they themselves are not living in an honorable way. People who are religious are okay, and people who are not religious are okay. There really are not many differences between these groups of individuals.
As we begin to understand the faith that holds my family together, we can take a look at a few family traditions that are linked to this core set of beliefs. The first and most important tradition that our family tries to hold to is the idea that a family who goes to church together stays together. My dad is a minister, so I have been in church since I was in my mother’s womb…literally. We try to go as often to the local church as possible, in order to recharge and refocus for the week to come. Church is much more than a social event for my family; it is an opportunity to grow together as a unit and to study the God we pursue so intently. I firmly believe that without church, our family wouldn’t be as close as it is. Church is the common thread that ties our family together, and it is vitally important to who I am as a human being.
Another major set of traditions come in the form of holiday celebrations. Whether it’s Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, or any other major holiday, my immediate family and I always try to celebrate together. We believe that family unity is incredibly vital to success in life, and little things like dinner together and family moments really contribute to growth and successful maturation in each and every one of us. Our family is very strongly focused on unity and oneness, and I think my childhood and youth have been better for that fact. We have faced numerous hardships, but through it all, we have each other. That is all that matters.
After understanding a little more about my upbringing, I think it is fair to set the focus squarely on myself and who I am. It sounds a little self-centered, but this paper is about me, so we will move on. I think understanding who I am comes down to seeing three key lessons learned in my life: first, everyone has a different story, so learn to listen before you speak, second, if an older person has something to tell you, listen; it may profound, and lastly, love is not something to be trifled with.
Throughout my life, I have come into contact with many people of many different ethnicities, genders, and beliefs. These people all have lived different lives, yet, sometimes I would struggle with projecting their problems onto my culture, which did not help them solve those problems. As I have grown up, I’ve learned that listening and being appreciative of someone and their plight can be the best way to help them solve a problem. My intricacies are not the same as my neighbor’s, or my brother across the globe. If I were to take a more open perspective in looking at them and their lives, I feel like I would learn better how to act around them and interact with them, thereby making things easier for both parties. This lesson was hard for me to learn, having not really been exposed to the idea until my teens.
In Robert Hayden’s poem Those Winter Sundays, our speaker is reflecting back on his time in the house with his father, and how he seemed to regret treating him rather poorly. In the last stanza he says:
…Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices? (lines 10-14)
Hayden seems to express in this poem the lesson that I have been learning since I arrived on my first college campus: parents know more than we think they know. My parents have been trying to instill some ideals and lessons in me ever since I could understand, but as most teens do, I resisted or rejected some of the ideas they tried to teach me. As I have grown into young adulthood, I’ve come to the sad realization that my parents were right in just about every situation where we butted heads. As times change, so do our understandings of different concepts and lessons that we learn. Hindsight really is 20/20 (forgive me for use of cliché, but it is true), and as I look back on my parents’ and grandparents’ teaching points, I see a lot of lessons and character ideas that have proved to be true in many ways.
As for love, I don’t feel like anyone truly understands the depth of meaning held in those four letters. Love can fit in many different contexts, whether it’s family love, the love of a friend, or the love of a significant other. The relevance of love became more important to me recently, due to the fact that my parents’ relationship became very strained a few months ago. Some bad news came, and all in one week, I nearly lost both parents because of it. The depths of love were really tested as they worked through recovering from this issue, and so now I take the word love very seriously. I feel as if people throw it around flippantly, talking about how they “love that burger” or how they “love this movie.” I feel as if people have lost track of the meaning of love, and I hope that someday soon, they will learn why love is both wonderful and vital to life as we know it. This lesson, along with the two previously discussed, has had a great impact on my life, and how I have become the man I am today.
The final area of life that has really influenced me comes down to some of my understandings of culture that have been greatly challenged. I grew up in a home of white Americans, in suburbs full of white Americans. My first exposure to diversity really didn’t occur until elementary school, when I was going to a school in the middle of the longest running desegregation in history. I was in a place where people were forcing themselves to love others of different colors and beliefs, and I do firmly believe that that experience distorted my understanding of race relations and interaction. As I grew up, I saw people who feigned love for others, only to hate them behind their backs, all because of the color of their skin. I had to learn from my family and others that true love for another individual comes from within, and that it has no skin color. I did not have any preconceived notions of how to handle people of other cultures, I was just taught to love and love unconditionally. This lesson came after leaving Louisiana, and I am so glad I was able to learn it. Another part of that lesson was coming to the understanding that racism is still alive and well in a lot of areas in America. As it turns out, we really never were truly free from the plague of hate and race frustration. I hope that lessons I’ve learned will hit others as they have hit me, hopefully helping them to understand how good it feels to love truly and compassionately.
The idea of loving people and embracing diversity was only confirmed and empowered by my trips abroad to London and the Dominican Republic. In those places I saw a lot of elements of life that were similar to American culture, whether it be class differences, or just the way people interacted. People in other countries were very similar to the people I met here, which really caused me to think even harder about how I imagined other cultures and how the media portrays those cultures. I have really learned to embrace diversity and to appreciate people of other beliefs and upbringings, because without them, the Earth would not be what it is today. We are a diverse planet, and the perspective of the whole can really change the living dynamic of the few.
Well, this is me. This is the reality I face: I am an American who doesn’t really know where I come from, or why I am here. I am a conglomeration; a mixing of hundreds of people and thousands of beliefs. Sure, I’m a little bit out of sorts, maybe even lost, but I know who I am. I am a man, almost twenty years old, seeking to understand my roots, and why I am who I am. I am living the only way I know how: passionately. I will pursue things that may seem out of the ordinary, only just to see if they are worth trying. I am myself, and confident in that fact. As I am writing, I am progressively feeling more confident in the identity that I am assuming, and why I am where I am at this time. My identity isn’t something that I will allow my culture to throw on to me, it is a set of beliefs and characteristics that I will choose for myself. Part of this identity will come from an acknowledgement of my past; the time of reflection that I took to write this paper has helped me tremendously in understanding some of the basic building blocks in my life, along with the reminder of why they were the chosen building blocks in the first place. This paper proved to be a sort of throwback for me, like in Mixed Blood by Phillip Carroll Morgan, when the speaker states that the back roads cause him to feel like he is “slowly changing/ from white man to indian/ like eroding wood” (lines 43-45). I did not change ethnicities as I wrote this paper, but I felt an odd sort of empathy with the speaker of this poem, as if he and I were feeling some of the same ideals. I felt a sudden connection to my roots, a sudden transformation, perhaps to what my family was, to who I am, and to what I belong to. I feel closer to understanding who I am than I ever thought I would be, and remembering where I came from has been great for helping me to understand where I need to go. In contrast to Natasha Tretheway’s poem Flounder, where the speaker feels an inner conflict stemming from her mixed-race, saying “I stood there watching that fish flip-flop,/ switch sides with every jump” (lines 27-28), I feel fully confident in who I am and what made me who I came to be. I have learned to respect others, love unconditionally, and listen before speaking. I have learned that the best way to help someone through an issue is to love them through it, and I have learned that the best hope in my life comes from Jesus Christ and Him alone. My hope is that people would see my life and find in it examples of how to love people and show great compassion, and maybe that example will spur them on to action. Maybe, as in my life, people will start loving each other and the world will see exactly what it claims to desire, change in the hearts of each and every individual. Maybe people will understand what true brotherhood really means. Maybe people will realize that being lost is okay, as long as we do it together.
Hayden, Robert. “Those Winter Sundays.” reprinted in Poetry: An Introduction 6th edition.
Edited by Michael Meyer. Boston: Bedford/St. Marin’s, 2010, p. 21
Morgan, Phillip Carroll. “Mixed Blood.” The Fork-in-the-road Indian Poetry Store. Cambridge,
England: Salt, 2006. N. pag. Print.
Tretheway, Natasha D., and Rita Dove. “Flounder.” Domestic Work: Poems. St. Paul, MN:
Graywolf, 2000. N. pag. Print.