Destiny? Or chosen Identity?

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”
Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)

unnamed (1)Names are such a vital part of our identity. Though assigned to us at birth, we spend the rest of our lives defining what it means to us. Much like the title of a book, the names we assign our projects too, are expressions of identity. For some, assigning a name can come almost as naturally as breathing. I have to admit, I am not one of those individuals. The titles to any of my poems, stories, or blog posts are often the most difficult part of the process for me. In fact, in developing the concept that has now become I Am Me, the title was almost the last detail to be secured.
After a few weeks of serious deliberation and frustration, I began to ask myself: what am I trying to promote? The answers varied slightly, but all revolved around the concepts of strength, self-identification and acceptance. One phrase kept popping up, “More than a disability”. For most of my life I have sought to prove that yes, I am a person with disabilities, but it did not define me. It was a part of the larger picture, but it was not the only piece of my identity. Thinking on this led me down memory lane. It was because of this triggered memory that I Am Me was already within me, I just had to unlock it.
I was so busy working, I hadn’t noticed an individual pull up the seat next to me. I continued working, not thinking that he wanted to talk. I figured he needed to work and I simply had an open seat next to me. After a few uncomfortable moments it became clear that he had something on his mind.
“I’m sorry, but are you okay?” Never in a million years would I have thought of the question that passed his lips.
“I’ve seen you around,” he continues, “It’s clear you have limitations. Do you prefer to be called disabled, or crippled?”
It was as though, for a second, the world stood still. Did he, did he just ask me that question? He is entirely aware that those words were just said out loud, right? I do admit that my first instinct was to answer sarcastically, almost like a programmed knee-jerk response. But would sarcasm correct ignorance? No and in the next moment I realized as irritated as I was by his question, he was doing something I respected- he asked a question. For many years, one of my biggest pet peeves was watching someone stare at me. It was clear they were thinking something, that had something to say or a question to ask, but instead of approaching me, they simply stared.
I respected the courage it took for him to come out and ask the question, regardless of how ill worded it was. In that moment, I decided I could either use this opportunity to have a screaming contest, or, I could use it as a moment to educate him. I took a deep breath, steadied myself and answered as calmly as I could,
“I prefer to be called by my name, Ashlee. I’m just me and I’m more than the disabilities you see,”
This experience taught me that sometimes, the hardest questions have the simplest of answers and, at times, they are hiding right under our noses. I hope that this blog allows people to see the many facets of my personality and heart. I hope that it helps me further discover who I am and who I will continue to become. More than anything, I also hope that readers ask themselves, “Who am I?” You’re more than what you think you are. You are more than the labels placed unfairly upon you. Take control of your identity, own it and happiness follows!

“Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing that we’ll ever do”
Brené Brown