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the puzzle pieces of who i am
Identity is a queer vulnerability. I present myself to you, wrapped up in words, tied up with sentences, hoping that you can see who I am, where I’m from, and find in the end, that they mean to you what they do to me.
So I begin. Yet where can I begin? I am from where I was born but more so where I grew up. I come from a fractured family but am rendered complete in mentors, peers, and even passing acquaintances. I am from every marginal success, but also every preceding failure.
I find Jorge Luis Borges put it best: I am not sure that I exist, actually. I am all the writers that I have read, all the people that I have met, all the women that I have loved; all the cities I have visited, all my ancestors.
I grew up with the inherent understanding that home and family are not fixed. I spent at most three years in each “home,” from Colorado to Washington to New Jersey to California. After the first few moves, my family crumbled– I found myself with a mother living 4,470.919 kilometers away, and a father visited regularly by the Child Protection Services. At the ripe old age of 9, the fickle interchangability of “all the cities I ha[d] visited, all my ancestors,” left me with an acrid uncertainty over my identity and future.
Now, when I revisit Borges’ quote, I am held more so to the “writers,” to the “people that I have met,” “that I have loved.” They make up who I am; an unwavering identity I’ve never doubted– being a learner.
One of my research mentors jocosely opines me a “quadruple-time student” in high school, more high school, college, and more college. My sheer amount of waking (and a few sleeping) hours spent in learning environments provides a space where I get to think thoughts that have been thought but need to be thought about more, articulate ideas that tread on precedent, read writings by people whose footsteps I work to one day match.
In that space, I lose and find myself. I think of the people who have touched me without touching me: Jeannie Suk Gersen’s New Yorker publications (in 6th grade, I emailed her 752 words of questions regarding the legal field… her lovely assistant Alyssa Lary responded with an astonishing measure of politeness), Dr. Sanjay Gupta in his distinct coexistence as neurosurgeon and journalist, and most recently Dr. Paul Kalanithi…
Kalanithi’s memoir When Breath Becomes Air pushed me to reconsider my fixation on the humanities. In his relentless pursuit of the question if the unexamined life is not worth living, is the unlived life worth examining?, Kalanithi posited that “literature provide[s] the best account of the life of the mind…, neuroscience la[ys] down the most elegant rules of the brain. Meaning, while a slipper concept, seem[s] inextricable from human relationships and moral values.” Yet Kalanithi also recounts his realization that while “brains give rise to our ability to form relationships and make life meaningful… Sometimes, they break.” How, I ask myself, can I brush aside the opportunity to preserve meaning in life?
Recently, the singular opportunity to read two decades of medical humanities student assignments under UCI Professor Emeritus Dr. Shapiro again affirmed to me how quintessential the humanities are to medicine. In Dr. Shapiro’s words, it is the doctor’s responsibility “to bring the patient through the struggle, when possible; and to join the patient in the struggle, always.” Isn’t the practice of medicine the quintessential mark of our humanity?
I haven’t always had the clearest vision of who I am or what I want to be. But in differentiating between a lifestyle and a calling, in examining influences from thinkers and writers I’ve spent my lifetime mentally befriending, I realize now how beautifully fragmented my identity as a student is. This fragmentation– composed from the works of intellectual role models– shapes the puzzle of who I am and will become, with the missing pieces to be filled in by what I have yet to learn.
So I continue to immerse myself in the legacies of those I look up to, in hopes that my chapter will one day follow theirs in sequence and match them in substance.