by Marshall Bowden
I have worked for many years as a shelter and spay neuter veterinary technician. Earlier this year, I had the misfortune of losing the job at the shelter where I had worked for many years.
I found myself adrift. I had spent all these years caring for animals that had no one else to care for them. If I no longer had that job, I asked myself, who was I?
Who are you? It’s the most elemental question in the world, but one that is not always easy to answer. Like most folks, I tend to answer this question by naming roles that I fulfill. Writer, boyfriend, son, veterinary technician, yogi, and entrepreneur—these are the things that first come to mind.
It makes sense, because these are the roles that others see us fulfilling every day. In the world we operate in, we need to market ourselves as this or that role so that others know how to relate to us. But these are actually things that we do rather than what we are.
Most religions and spiritual belief systems teach that we are not our bodies, though we inhabit them and identify with them through the course of a lifetime. Nor are we our minds, though we use our minds and intelligence to guide us in our daily interactions.
“Your mind will answer most questions if you learn to relax and wait for the answer. “ –William S. Burroughs
When we identify with these things we cannot accept their loss through physical illness, injury, or death.
Whether you believe that some part of us survives our physical death or not, it’s easy to see that when we identify with the roles that we fulfill, it becomes very difficult to accept it when those roles must change.
When we lose our job or must change careers, when we go through a divorce or when someone who helps define a role goes away or dies, who are we then?
There’s no single answer to this question. For some, there may be a realization that you exist outside of the body and self that you think of as “you” and that you will continue to “be” no matter what roles you shed or even when you shed your physical body.
For others, it may be more a matter of considering the purpose of the roles you fulfill. Their purpose may seem more like a lesson on the road to fulfilling your life’s purpose.
For example, you may believe that each role allows you to learn more about yourself and others, or that each role is a way for you to manifest and offer love to others during your lifetime.
In this case, when one of the roles you fulfill comes to an end—whether through separation or death or other means—you may need to consider that perhaps you’ve fulfilled the role. Maybe that’s all that was being asked of you.
If that’s the case, then it’s time to let go of that role and move on. As long as you are alive, there will always be new roles to fulfill if you are open to the possibilities they represent.
Whether we look to philosophy, religion, or science as a guiding light (or a combination of all three), we are bound to arrive at one conclusion: life is all about change.
Change is seldom easy or comfortable, but when we don’t let go and allow life to flow the way it’s going, we miss out on opportunities to grow, learn, and have new adventures.
Letting go of roles that no longer serve their purpose doesn’t mean that we forget their lessons or the fellow travelers who helped us on our way. We should always remain thankful for the lessons we’ve learned and the people who have travelled with us, even when our roads diverge.
In the words of Richard Bach, “A farewell is necessary before you can meet again. And meeting again, after moments or lifetimes, is certain for those who are friends.”