Monday, January 25, 2010

What makes us, 'us'?

Our things. A job. A title. Our body. Image. Our mind. Thoughts.

What do you think makes us, us?

Yes, we look a certain way. We have certain things. We think certain thoughts. But, do those form who we are? I'm in the midst of reading an insightful and thought-provoking book, and what I read this morning over coffee was a bit of a breadcrumb chapter:
Body vs. Mind. The Body will eat until it is satisfied. But the Mind makes us continue to eat. Our Body needs simple covering when it's too hot or too cold. But the Mind looks in the closet and declares, "I have nothing to wear." The Mind thinks it IS the Body, or the hand, or hair, or whatever. It thinks it's the physical 'thing.' But, then the Mind says, "Am I not the hand? If my hand is cut off... I am still me. So, then I am not the hand." When you take away 'things,' what is remaining is what you really are. It's when you shed the things you think make up your personal story, your identity, and what makes you feel safe, that you finally are able to understand what you really are. You are not just 'body' because you can function without your body. And not your 'beliefs' as those were passed on to you from family and society even before you were born.
Why 'breadcrumb'? I have my master file of my photography that I'd kept backed-up on an external HD. And being a photographer, I identify myself with those items. The photos. There's a comfort in knowing that I have those items. They showcase me as 'a photographer'. I'm also a packrat, so I keep everything. But those photos are part of 'me.' Or that's what it feels like.

They are currently missing.

Close to 4,000 photos dating back to 1995 are simply missing. France, holidays, my grandparents, random road trips, Sunrises, Inauguration, my niece's first days in this world last January.

A few weeks ago, I was transferring files onto a new drive. The old one went on the fritz, and suddenly these photos disappeared. Someone who handles these things, is currently looking into recovering these images for me. Should know something early this week. I'm teetering emotionally between anxious and denial.

But in reading this chapter this morning, I also realize that those photos are not me. Think of Haiti. Of New Orleans. These items are things. The do not constitute 'us.' Losing them does not change who we are, or endanger our lives. They are comfortable because they hold memories. They showcase our talents. But they are not us.

If they are recovered. I will be very, very happy. I will then immediately back up 'the back-up'. But if they are not recovered, I will still back up 'the back-up' from here forward. Perhaps cry for a few days and then move on with life. Either way, lesson learned.

When we get stripped of the things we think identify us, a funny thing happens, we realize we are still 'us.'
©2010 Wendy Hudgins
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  1. Wendy,

    I've been where you are. You put things into very good context considering what disaster victims have gone through in recent times. Still, it hurts a little to lose cherised items. Remember what Prince said, "Be glad 4 what u have, baby, what u've got."

  2. This is a very interesting perspective, Wendy. You're right. We don't "need" much of anything. I could lose everything today and, assuming I didn't go completely off the deep end and get carried off in a straitjacket, I would still fundamentally be the same person that I am now.

    Your "breadcrumb" could be the foundation of a long, deep philosophical discussion.

    Don't worry, I won't bore you with anything like that.

    I'll bore you with something else.

    It occurred to me that of all the things you chose to write about, you hit on something outside of yourself that really helps you be the person you are.

    I agree with you about possessions. If somebody broke into my apartment and stole my television I would be very upset, but in the grand scheme of things a TV doesn't really mean much. I should consider myself lucky to have ever owned a TV at all. I constantly remind myself that no matter how crappy I may THINK things are, I'm a very fortunate person. There will always be somebody who has it much, MUCH worse.

    A little gratitude is a very good thing.

    I don't think photographs are your average "stuff" though. You've probably heard people ask the question "If you're house was burning down and you only had time to grab one thing before you escaped, what would it be?"

    I think the answer I've heard most often from people is "photographs". Why? Because memories fade with time.

    I never appreciated this fact when I was an indestructible, all-knowing 20-something, so I didn't own a camera. Even though I was in the Navy and traveling all over the world, I just figured I would remember everything.

    I was a stupid kid.

    Now that I'm a much more humble, imperfect 40-something, I can tell you with absolute certainty that my memory SUCKS! I finally bought a camera in 2006 and I use it constantly.

    Photographs are clear, vivid, detailed extensions of our memories. They capture our experiences, even if it's only for an instant in time. Those, to me, are far more important than the most of the material crap that clutters my life.

    I used to see a bumper sticker on cars from time to time which read "He who dies with the most toys wins." I prefer to say "He or she who dies with the best stories wins."

    I also think photographs are especially important for a person like you because creative, artistic people need to express themselves. Every one of those 4,000 images provides some small glimpse into who you are. They permit others to see the world as you see it, if only for 4,000 instants frozen in time.

    I'm sure the need for expression is a big reason you're an artist and a photographer. No doubt it's also one of the reasons you write this blog. It seems to me that expression is at the very core of who you are.

    Anyway, enough of my rambling...

    Good breadcrumb! It makes me wonder what the rest of the loaf is like! Very thought-provoking. Thanks!


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