Who are you?
This is a question that my mentor, Mr. John D Meehan, asked me in one of a handful of face-to-face conversations that we had. And when he posed it to me, different answers went through my mind. All that I could really think of responding with, however, was, “me” – and that with a question mark at the end of it. I chose not to give an answer out loud, just sat there thinking and waiting for him to continue. I knew that he would. He mentioned each of the ways that had flipped through my thoughts, the ways by which most people answered the question: professional identity, national identity, religious affiliation, familial or social association, maybe even a hobby.
But, Mr. Meehan said, none of these go to the heart of your true identity, to who you are.
He said that the truth of who we are is in relationship with Christ, then gave the example of Mary Magdalene. She didn’t recognize Christ Resurrected, but as soon as he spoke her name, she knew him. In this, Mr. Meehan was inviting me to find the answer of who I am. Having been a teacher, I think that he could have spelled it out a bit more plainly to me. If he had, maybe he would’ve said something like “you are a child of God”… but, then again, perhaps he knew that that answer would not have penetrated into my mind and heart because I had heard it too many times before. Or, perhaps, he didn’t like that answer either, for the same connotative reasons that would have made me smirk. I’ll never know now, because, last week, Mr. Meehan died.
It was a couple of years ago that I last saw him. And, of course, with his passing, I am regretting not having made an effort to have been more often in his presence. He was a good man and a wise one, well-educated (but not overeducated), influential in these parts, and all of that. But he was also funny. I’d say that he was mostly funny. A tall Irish-American originally from the Boston area, it seemed to me like, no matter how deep the subject he may have been discussing, he would always have been ready to see the humor in it. I’m sure he had a temper – I mean, he was Irish, right? But I never saw it. He was genial and spoke with me very naturally, neither awed nor disturbed by my disability, approaching me, we could say, as a wise elder – but as one who saw me as a fellow student, who was ever ready to listen and learn.
Writing these words, I feel myself missing him, mourning his death. I had been expecting his passing for quite a few years, ever since I had learned that he had cancer with a grim prognosis. He had asked for prayers and I had told him that I was praying for him. As the years went by – and he was still here – he joked that people were praying too much. (Maybe it wasn’t a joke?) As I stated earlier, I hadn’t seen him for a couple of years, but I was still receiving and reading his weekly “Sunday Message” with the rest of his email group. The last Sunday Message that we received declared that it would, indeed, be the last Sunday Message, as John was preparing for “his eternal reward”. His email group was asked to pray for him, probably by his wife, who would sometimes send the messages on his behalf when he was unwell. And I did pray for his peaceful transition. And so, there was almost a sense of goodness and greatness when my father told me that he had passed on.
The missing comes now, while I am thinking about him, remembering what he gave me, and regretting not having learned more or given him more. Once, he sent me a manuscript of the latest book he was working on, about the vocation of love. In the email, he asked me to send him my thoughts and comments. I was a little overwhelmed by this request. My first thought, as would be my instinctive inclination, was that he was humoring me, somehow, doing something nice for the little girl in the wheelchair. But I really don’t think that was his style. I took him seriously, honestly. After reading only the beginning of it, I did send back a concern about his list of roles that people have, because I didn’t fit into any of them. Not being a parent, a spouse, or any kind of worker… surely that didn’t mean that I couldn’t fulfill a vocation of love. His reply made it clear that he was very happy that I had brought this up – and did I have suggestions for what roles to add? Like any good mentor, he was challenging me to dig deeper, follow through, and mean what I say.
This brings me back to the question of who I am… Who am I? A Christian, a Catholic, an American, a Granite Stater, a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a friend, a writer, a student, a patient…? Yes, all of these things, but aren’t they, eternally, just things? Even stating that I am a Christian isn’t enough. What does that mean? – That I believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God, Lord, and Savior of the world? What does that mean? – That I have given my heart to my Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier…? What does that mean?
Who am I? And why did Mr. Meehan, and why do you, dear reader, even care who I am?…
I’m currently trying to write a memoir, an autobiography, the story of my life. And I have been questioning, this week, why I am doing this. So far, I’ve come up with two answers: because people have been telling me that I should and because I have a feeling that this is what I’m supposed to do. But why do I have a feeling that this is what I’m supposed to do? Is it not because people have been telling me that I should? Is that a good reason?
Heavy sigh. I’m beginning to think that, if I do write this story of my life, it will be so that I may explore who I am – not what I have done or where I’ve been (God knows there will not be a lot of action in my story), not even what I think or feel, but who I am. So… who am I?
It saddens me that I will no longer have Mr. Meehan to help me on this journey. But perhaps I can go back to the biggest thing that he ever did for me – not helping me to learn some Latin, or even challenging my ideas of my identity, but calling me to give witness to my journey of faith to others.
Having co-founded Magdalene College (now Northeast Catholic) he knew some of their professors (or tutors, as they called them) and brought one over to my house to meet me. He had given the man a copy of something that I had written on the Holy Trinity (something that Mr. Meehan only had because my father had given it to him without my knowing – thank you, Dad!) In the course of our discussion, I ended up telling the two men about some of my journey from nominal Catholic to atheist to someone who was “spiritual but not religious” to true believing Christian. A couple of months later, I was at the college, giving a 20 minute talk to the younger man’s catechesis class, which were all of the juniors in the school.
That’s about the biggest thing that I have ever done.
But it’s not the greatest happening in my life – that was told in the talk. And that, perhaps, is what the story of my life should be about – if it should be written at all. Hopefully, when I am finished with the writing of it (God willing) I will have a better understanding of who I am.
When Mr. Meehan read the first draft of the talk, he approached me after Mass (on the very rare occasion that we were at the same one) to comment on what I had written. He said that I was speaking from the heart, that the strength of my witness was the heart. And, I admit, I was disappointed. I had been thinking of myself as something of an intellectual, someone who could make strong and convincing arguments with rational reasoning. But that’s not what Mr. John Meehan saw. Once again, he made me rethink who I am and what was important about me. Consequently, he also set me off on my exploration of the heart, the Heart of God in the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Heart of Man, and – most significantly and meaningfully (may I never forget) – my own heart. …Whatever that means. 🙂
Rest in the peace and joy of the fullness of God’s Eternal Presence, Mr. Meehan!
© 2017 Christina Chase
042 by Lauren Mancke found on minimography.com, royalty-free
Christina’s Quest, by Dan Chase, © 2014 Dan Chase, All Rights Reserved
Although crippled by disease, I'm fully alive in love. I write about the terrible beauty and sacred wonder of life, while living with physical disability and severe dependency. A revert to the Catholic faith through atheism, I'm not afraid to ask life's big questions. I explore what it means to be fully human through my weekly blog and have written a book: It's Good to Be Here, published by Sophia Institute Press.