I often think about all the labels I wear, or have worn, over the years. First there was “son,” a dubious one indeed because I had no control over it. Indeed, I didn’t even really know it existed on a conscious level until I had been one for quite some time. I remember my mother leaning over me to tuck me into bed one time, and thinking: I’m her son.
Then there was “brother,” which has been with me just as long as son. I don’t know my life in any kind of context when I wasn’t a brother, when I didn’t have someone else who shared my experience growing up in that house. And we were close at times, while not at others. We battled for space, for time, for pretty much whatever spoils could have existed. That was the life of being a brother.
Next I guess you could add “neighbor” to the list, though I was a poor one. We lived a pretty sheltered existence, but there were others on the block who I connected with from time to time (large expanses of time between the connections). These boys and girls always seemed alien to me, like some kind of extra-terrestrials who lived completely different lives even though we lived right next door.
There were others along the way from there to here, labels that floated in and out depending on circumstances and others who inhabited those labels. Designations like “friend,” “boyfriend,” “classmate,” “coworkers,” and “teacher” inhabited the shadows of my life, stepping one by one up to the plate and shifting definitions in the next moment.
I’ve been all of them, and none of them, and some of them (but not others) all at the same time. Sometimes the labels have made me happy, and other times I’ve shrunk away from them, but that didn’t make them apply any less to me.
The ones I cherish the most are father, husband, brother, and son, two of my most recent labels, and the very first two, all tumbled up together. The day I became a father was the most exceptional day of my life, those little hands reaching up for me, those little eyes so much like my own. When I got married it was something I never thought would happen. And I’ve gotten a second chance to be the son and brother I wish I had been from the start. Those are miracles.
That’s life, by the way, a miraculous occurrence that keeps on being miraculous. It’s not the labels, either, but what we do with them that matters. What kind of a husband, father, son, and brother am I? What kind of an impact do I have on the lives of the people who matter the most to me? To me, it’s not the definitions of the terms, or even the way they force me to see myself through the connections I have with others. To me, it’s the fact that life is precious.
Labels can limit us, but they can also help us see what’s important in our lives. I know mine certainly do.