I took a good number of art history classes while I was a student at the University of Washington. One of the classes, Asian Art, was taught by Glen Webb, a man originally from Kansas, if memory serves. Dr. Webb was an excellent instructor. He was interesting and knowledgeable. He was also daring and adventurous. I remember his describing the amazing Buddha sculptures carved into cliffs in Afghanistan. Even in the 80’s they were already being destroyed by Afghani soldiers. He gently lamented, “I had wonderful slides of them but I dropped them down a crevasse.”

Glen Webb was also the second person I’ve encountered in my life who comported himself with balance, an incredible calm, and peacefulness. (The first was Archbishop Emeritus of Seattle, Raymond Hunthausen.) Glen Webb was also a Zen Buddhist monk. He had followers in Japan.

I could be a ball of anxiety in those days, and for many years to follow. I thought to myself, “I want that. I want what he has.”

So I listened to how he described Buddhism. One of the things he taught us was the axiom, “I am that.” If we are all part of everyone else then there is no self. In other words, “I am that.”

No self? Hmm. “I don’t want that. I am not that. I am me”

Connection threatens identity. Identity threatens connection.

An experience like breast cancer can send us back to adolescence, which is a major period of identity development. “I that this but not that. I am not what you tell me that I am.”

“I am not cancer.” “I am not pink ribbons.” “I am not a survivor.” “I am not a warrior.”

If you ask me who I am, I will tell you, “Elizabeth MacKenzie.” (And if you have a pencil in your hand, I will note that it is “M-a-c” and that the ‘K’ is uppercase.

But if I really think about it, my name says very little about who I am. My name is not my identity. My name merely identifies me.

That doesn’t mean that my name is not important because it is important to me.

I am cancer, it is a part of my life whether it ever returns or not.

I am a cancer survivor if I think of it as a process rather than an end point. I am a cancer survivor until I die, whether I die from cancer or not.

I am a psychologist until I die.

I am a mother until I die.

I am a wife until I die.

I am a friend until I die.

I am that but I am not just that.

I am so many things.

And so are you.