In the morning when I look in the mirror, I see someone in his late sixties with gray hair, a paunch, and a face that disturbingly resembles my father's That is not who I am.
In my head I am eighteen years old, six feet tall, a skinny one hundred thirty pounds, about to step into the wider world from Fleming County, Kentucky. That's who I am, and the scattering of personae I've gathered over the past half-century (graduate student, husband, father, editor, teacher, parishioner, Marylander, sexagenarian, whatever) are all in some sense artificial, not quite who I am.
Next month my fellow graduates of the Class of 1969 at Fleming County High School will be at a party to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of their graduation, a party I can't attend because of an obligation in Baltimore.
But if I were there, those people would see through the accidental accumulations of those fifty years and identify me as that skinny eighteen-year-old with the brown hair and thick eyeglasses. And they would call me "John Early," because they know what my name is, the name my family used, the name they used, and I would hear in its authentic sound. (Kathleen calls me John Early; she has the words but not the tune.)
It's a slippery thing, identity, those selves we assume to fit the occasions. One plays the roles: professional journalist, college lecturer, adult. Some days it feels like imposture, because at the core there is still that skinny introvert, bookish, eager for the wider world but a little daunted by stepping into it.
But then the curtain rises, and the show goes on.