ENID, Okla. —
Who the hell are you?
I have a colleague who jokingly greets each new employee with that extremely direct query. It’s nothing personal, he does it to everybody.
How would you answer that question? With your name, of course, possibly adding where you are from.
But who are you, really? Beyond your name and your address, what threads are woven into the fabric of your life, the whole cloth that makes you, you?
Your family situation, to be sure, whether you’re married or single, a mom or a dad, a grandma or grandpa.
Your job, certainly, be you butcher, baker or candlestick maker.
Your education, religious affiliation, political leanings, sexual orientation, likes, dislikes, hobbies, tastes in food, art and music, all play a role in making up who you are.
Then there’s your personality. Are you shy and retiring or do you fill every room you enter with your charm, wit and charisma?
There’s also your behavior. Are you a good witch or a bad witch? Are you gentle and kind or cruel and brutish?
Each thread laid one upon the other forms the tapestry that males up you, whoever you are.
But what if you were asked that question and didn’t have an answer?
That seems to be the case with a man in Petersborough, a city of some 186,000 souls located in the east of England.
The man, who is being called “Robert” by local authorities, was found May 18 in a public park near the city’s bus station, with no wallet, no mobile phone and no form of identification.
He has no idea who he is. He can’t remember his name, where he is from or why he happened to be in the park in Petersborough on that spring day.
Robert appears to be in his early 20s, speaks English with an Eastern European accent and understands both Russian and Lithuanian.
Doctors have been working with him trying to jog his memory, to no avail.
Robert has no clue who he might be, or who he has been.
How frightening that must be, how unnerving. “At times I am angry, frustrated, depressed, lost and confused,” said Robert.
Does he have a family, parents who love and miss him, a wife, a girlfriend, children, even? Does he have friends, colleagues?
All his memories, all his experiences, all the accumulated angst and joy he has amassed during his brief time on this Earth has been forgotten, wiped away.
He is a blank slate. He has no idea who he was, but who he will be is strictly up to him. If he chooses, he could make himself a totally different person.
He could pick his own name, craft his own back story, move wherever his heart leads him.
It is an enticing proposition. If you could, would you wipe the white board of your life, shake your personal Etch-A-Sketch and begin again?
For some, being able to step out of their lives into a brand new identity would be a relief, a release from a grim or tragic existence.
But for others it would mean severing deeply planted roots, eschewing love, hearth and home, a high price for a chance to start again.
Of course, there is nothing to say you can’t change your life without having your present and past erased by amnesia. Quit this, take up that, lose this, gain that, learn this, forget that, it’s up to you.
But you can build yourself up without tearing down your life, can take your past and present with you, not having to leave it alongside the road like an unwanted dog.
When someone asks who you are, tell them, proudly. I have heard some extremely self-deprecating folks describe themselves as “nobody.”
Nothing could be farther from the truth. Everybody is somebody, even Robert.
Even he is somebody, though nobody knows quite whom.
Mullin is senior writer of the News & Eagle. Email him at email@example.com.