Personal Journeys with Gramma

Life adventures, inspiration and insight; shared in articles, advice, personal chats and pictures.

“License and Registration, please:” Identity Needs

Long ago when we were new on our ranch, we hired a driller who lived near us to create a viable water well. She brought her canny border collie mix with her. The dog liked us and decided to stay after the well was finished, so regardless of how many times her owner took her home, she came back. Finally, we asked her owner if we could have her vaccinated with our dog, and the owner agreed. Tricksie had filed her claim. She was independent and well-known miles from our home, so we decided she really needed to have identification and a collar. We were worried she’d resist. Instead, she beamed as only a dog can wag and beam simultaneously as we buckled her collar in place. She had proof she belonged. She had an identity.

Those of us who have spent our lives with birth certificates, student IDs, library cards, driver’s licenses, etc., take our identity for granted—unless it’s stolen. Then we realize with a jolt that our SELF is a network of documents. People who’ve lost their documents in a natural disaster know what I’m talking about. In the film THE NET, Sandra Bullock played a computer programmer whose identity was purposely erased. Suddenly she couldn’t function—couldn’t rent a car, use her credit cards, or withdraw funds from her bank. She felt invisible and vulnerable, because she was.

Many are born into a system that doesn’t bother to bestow identity on people who are poor and, therefore, expendable. In the brilliant Lebanese film CAPERNAUM (2018), a resourceful boy Zain is one of several children born to parents who can’t remember how old he is—maybe around 12? They use their children to help them squeak by while they create more children, and Zain hates them for it. He has no access to education since he has no papers, and he knows his life is doomed to desperate depravity if he can’t remedy the situation. He struggles to care for a baby whose immigrant mother disappeared—seized for lack of documentation without his knowing. Despairing, he finally realizes he has no way to raise a child himself. From jail (he stabbed a man for causing someone he loved to die), he uses an abuse hotline to declare he wants to sue his parents for bringing him into a world where they can’t take care of him.

How precious is a life without hope? The Lebanese jail in which both Zain and the baby’s mother find themselves is more humane than the ones the American government runs near our southern border, but still there is little chance of anything changing for Zain when he is freed. Luckily for him, the courts intervene benevolently. Our proof of who we are is a key that can open doors to empathy, aid, and, if nothing else, to a sense of SELF. We donate most to sick children or disabled vets or abandoned pets when we know who they are. To delete identity erases a grounding human’s need to become productive members of the community. We need to look into the eyes of the homeless, the marginalized, the disabled, and the discarded to see the person trapped there. We need to hold identity sacred.

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