On Tuesday, I drove up to Kokomo to be with my dad at his doctor’s appointment. On the way there, I stopped to grab some coffee.
I went inside the coffee shop and ordered. As I was waiting for my organic, almond milk, local pumpkin “spiced” latte, (I know, I’m annoying), I sat down on a couch and peered out the window.
Outside there was a child with a beautiful round face playing with legos at a table while a woman (presumably the child’s mother) chatted with a few of her friends.
The child came up to the window and waved at me through the glass. I waved back, smiling, and wondered what gender the child was. It was hard for me to discern, and I found myself wanting to know.
And then I sighed. And just sat there, mesmerized by this child’s smile, until I heard the barista say, “Order for Emily!”
And as I walked away, I suddenly snapped out of my wondering. I am not sure why. Maybe it was just the emotional state I was in. I was trying to go into the doctor’s appointment with an open heart, trusting what was about to happen, despite my fear. And so I heard a voice inside me say, “You don’t really need to know everything, Emily. Don’t put that beautiful child in a box. Separate yourself from this world of boxes and labels.”
And I began to think about my own baby, who is really not a baby anymore, but a vibrant 8 year old. As I’ve mentioned in this blog before, when people ask her, “What are you mixed with?” I feel weird and awkward and like some boundary has been crossed. I am still stunned when strangers and acquaintances ask that question so effortlessly. It slides of their tongues like smooth butter.
“What is she mixed with?”
“What is she?”
“Are you her mom? What is her dad?”
It’s a label–a category–that people want. And it bugs me. Perhaps I’m overly sensitive. Or perhaps I’m not.
But here I was with this beautiful child, in the coffee shop, wanting the same. I wanted a label. A box. A category. Male or female? I’m embarrassed to admit that my psyche may have wanted to know, so that it could structure my interactions with this child based upon knowledge of his or her gender.
And that is NOT someone I want to be.
I suppose my brain knows that deep down–which is why it started talking to me about boxes and labels. The child is a child is a child. The child has his or her own identity which is being shaped and formed and I have no business being involved in that process.
One of my favorite authors, Glennon Doyle Melton, (who recently divorced her husband) announced that she’s in love with another female, who happens to be badass soccer player, Abby Wambach. Everyone is suddenly like, “Is Glennon gay? Is she bisexual? What IS she?”
And there’s something about those questions that I find unnverving. It’s like, we humans are so obsessed with checking boxes. These are some of the common boxes we like to check:
And there’s a lot more. But those above are the three biggies. And there’s a reason for that–people treat you differently based upon their associations and/or unsettling beliefs they associate with those labels.
There are people in this world who are very uncomfortable without labels; these are the people who can’t stand not knowing what “categories” others fall into. They find comfort in categories and do not like ambiguity.
And yet, if there’s one thing to be certain of in life, it is that our lives WILL be filled with ambiguity. We are not omniscient nor were we designed to be.
And so I was thinking about ALL the things I just said (I’ve a busy brain) as I entered my dad’s doctor appointment with his neurologist. And as the neurologist gave me his diagnosis, “Your dad is in the beginning to moderate stages of Alzheimer’s disease,” I made a conscious decision right then and there to not let this diagnositic label DEFINE him.
I saw my dad’s face, as the neurologist told him that the disease is not curable. He was unable to make eye contact with the doctor. He was somber. He did not ask questions. So I did.
“What does this mean?” I asked.
“It means he needs to start this medication I’m prescribing as soon as possible to prolong the quality of his life,” the doctor said.
He went on to explain that with this medication, we are buying at least 8-11 more years of a life that is true to him.
When I looked over at my dad, I thought I would cry, but instead I just felt overwhelming love and compassion for him. I looked him square in the eyes when we left and told him that this is a condition… but it’s not WHO he is.
We cannot let these labels–these boxes, these words–DEFINE each other. They are cages. You know what my most important identity is? Child of God. That’s it. Because I’ve had important labels taken away from me–wife, niece, granddaughter, and friend. And yet, I’ve gone on living.
People build walls in the name of labels; when what we REALLY need is proximity.
As for me, I am going to do my best to fall in love with the ambiguity, while decreasing the distance between myself and those different from me.
And I’m going to keep reminding my dad of his most important identity: child of God. I love you, dad.