Larry’s Story: My Identity, My Life
You may be wondering how I came to know what I do about identity. Where, you might ask, does my knowledge come from? What are my credentials?
I make my living as an identity consultant. I help organizations, and the men and women who lead these organizations, come to terms with who they are, what they stand for and what to do about it. I bring them face to face with their uniqueness, and the potential it implies. I have other credentials as well, which in many ways, have proven to be more powerful than my professional experience. Because of its profound influence on everything I am and do, I need to tell you my story.
My story revolves around all things visual: sight, vision, eyes, perception, seeing, discernment. Call it what you will, this is my world. When I was four-years old I underwent eye surgery to correct a muscle problem; I was born cross-eyed. Medically speaking, the operation was a success, but during that operation the course of my life was altered forever.
The first moment I am able to recall is being on the operating table, looking around with a mix of childlike curiosity and growing trepidation. The doctors, nurses and various assistants were moving about, preparing for the procedure in their businesslike, matter-of-fact way. The operating room was coming alive with activity. I, however, had no conception of what was going on, no earthly idea why I was there.
Lying on my back, a cold, tingly fear crept up along both sides of my body and settled firmly in my heart. I figured something must be wrong with me; after all, my parents had put me in this place of sick people. And if something was wrong with me, then I needed to be “fixed;” I needed an operation. As I saw it, my eyes were the problem. I say that because that is what my mother and father had told me; that was the reason they had brought me here: I was cross-eyed and that apparently wasn’t OK. So, I concluded, it was my eyes that had gotten me into trouble. Suddenly, I saw my life in stark, black and white terms: fix my vision, fix myself.
To this day, I can recall being tethered to the operating table, canvas straps pulled snug across my chest and pelvis. I watched in terror as the gas mask was brought to my face. My control over myself had been torn away from me. I began repeating to myself, Doesn’t anyone care about me? Quickly, however, a new question consumed me: What is so wrong with me that I must be changed from who I am? All I could figure was that my eyes were hopelessly flawed and, therefore, so was I. I sensed imminent death. “No!,” I shouted to myself. “Please, don’t hurt me!” I begged, beneath the mask that muffled my growing horror. At that excruciating instant, unable to breathe, part of me went away down a black hole—my “tunnel” to freedom and survival. I had abandoned my identity to save my life. At the instant I slipped away, however, in the midst of my living nightmare, I pledged to myself that I would return. “No!, I screamed again. I will not die! I will be back.”
Forty years passed before I become fully conscious of this experience. My will to “return” had remained alive. If I was to come back, I needed to know exactly what had happened to me. I needed to know what had led to my obsession to be whole again and, in recent years, to help others benefit from the trauma I had survived. Since the day I slipped away, I have been at work, more unconsciously than not, to restore my integrity as a complete person. A supposedly routine medical procedure had forced me to confront the question, who am I?, far sooner than I was prepared to do so. Reconnecting with my identity, and helping others do the same, has been the governing force in my life ever since.
My identity journey has been a long, sometimes trying, often joyous, always adventuresome trek. It has been worth the trip, for I know who I am; I know my purpose: I am driven by the need to help people to see. To see the futility of some actions and the power of others. To see one’s potential as prescribed by their identity. To see the importance of living one’s difference.