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What We Carry Inside Is What Guides Us


When I'm with someone mean or aggressive, I try to think about the circumstances that might have led to their emotions. They may have stubbed their toe. They might have a sick child at home. Their mother may have died.

Even though these things don't have anything to do with me, I might still unwittingly be a recipient of their emotions. It happens.

Similarly, when I talk to one person, I like to think about how I'm talking to the multitudes within them that they still carry — the versions of themselves inside left over from experiences that shaped who they were and how they now interact with the world.

I remember loving to run when I was about 7. Running felt like unadulterated freedom; you were so small and weightless that you felt close to flight. Running as an adult came with different limitations: shin splints and aching sides, stiffness from past surgeries and more susceptibility to injuries. I've struggled to adjust to the body I've grown into, but I have gratitude for it. It's carried and born my children. It heals me without prompting. It tolerates neglect and then slowly changes to bear more weight and activity.

But that 7-year-old is still in there, still longing to run wild.

Growth in this human form is not just about physical changes. It's adding to the cast of characters as your roles mutate within the world. It's not just that 7-year-old in me, but the awkward 17-year-old who doesn't look into anyone's eye. It's the 23-year-old confused about her place in the world, and it's the 31-year-old with the toddler at her feet and a baby in her arms, growing into her new role. All of her is still there, but she only stares through the veil with today's self.

But sometimes, the veil is what traps you.

When my grandmother had a stroke, I saw firsthand how she struggled with losing the identity that she retained inside. She was smart, one of those confident people who did crossword puzzles in pen. After her stroke, she couldn't find the right words for a conversation she wanted to continue and would get frustrated and angry. She retreated inward.

But the worst of it? She couldn't crochet anymore.

In my memories, if she wasn't in the kitchen, she would sit in her worn chair in the living room, watching nature documentaries or terrible German polka performances. Always in her hands was her crocheting, which she would do for hours, with almost needle-like hooks and floss-like thread, the strands with intricate designs and patterns growing down her lap. Her identity in her small town included the crochet group, where others would come to her for help and pay good money for her work.

The stroke took away the use of one hand. From one moment to the next, she couldn't be the person she knew herself to be, the person inside. I tried to see her, but sometimes she didn't want to be seen. She buried herself and that version, like others do too.

An angry man on the street might have the tears of his 7-year-old self on his soul. The quiet woman cutting the meat at the deli might pine for her body before the mastectomy, and grapple with the sexuality she knows she has inside. We don't just face one another in our current presence, but in all the ways that we are inside, whether we share them, or even see them, ourselves.

Cassie McClure is a writer, millennial, and unapologetic fan of the Oxford comma. She can be contacted at cassie@mcclurepublications.com.