I’ve mentioned before that my wife and I have food allergies. To be more specific, for my wife it’s celiac disease.
Having recently relocated to a new town, we’re regularly meeting new people and I’m coming across an interesting conundrum.
Is it more proper to say that “my wife has celiac disease” or that “my wife is a celiac”? Is this condition part of who she is or is it something that she currently carries around?
We say “I have a cold.” Or “I have cancer.” Or “I am a cancer patient.”
Most people would likely say that this is just an issue of semantics; we know what we mean, and so the actual words we use are not that important.
But is that true? Underneath, I see a potential issue concerning identity and being.
We characterize ourselves in so many ways, and there is a range of positive, neutral, and negative items that we may select to describe who we are. Sometimes we prefer to claim our achievements (positive: I am a college graduate), sometimes we claim our heritage (neutral: I am an American), and sometimes we claim our struggles (negative: I am an alcoholic).
Are we cautious or intentional about the items that we fold into our identity, into our sense of self? Or do we apply, haphazardly and situationally, the various labels that we choose?
I have certainly noticed that I filter my self-description depending on who I’m talking to. If it appears that there may be a point of contact with a given characteristic, I tend to share that one. If a certain claim would really only serve to feed my pride and ego, I try to avoid that one (though not always successfully).
My brief reflection sees that, most often, my wife would say that she has celiac disease…she reserves her sense of “am” for other aspects of life.
And her sharing has often served as an important point of contact with others. A commonality discovered, especially in an area of life struggle, has often opened doors for caring, advising, and collaboration where otherwise none would likely be found.
So, perhaps the am/have issue really is just one of semantics. Perhaps, in the end, it doesn’t so much matter how we present ourselves, but rather how we connect with people. Our self-introductions and personal identifications can help that along, or hinder severely our ability to relate to others.
This doesn’t mean that we are ambiguous about who or what we are, that we vacillate in our values or compromise our conscience. It simply means that we have the opportunity to share the truth of who we are in such a way as to connect significantly with those we meet.
Do I have a blog? Am I blogger? I find that I rarely make mention of this aspect of my life when meeting someone, and yet, for some of you, this is in fact the most crucial aspect of my identity: without it, we would be completely unconnected. For others, you know me face-to-face, and this blog is merely one more point of contact among many for journeying through life with me.
And so, I conclude that, at times, the am/have distinction may indeed be important; there may be a significant way of presenting ourselves (especially our struggles) that will help us to connect with someone else. But in other relationships, it really is just an issue of semantics; the relationship runs much deeper than the identification of any single characteristic or quality and so the use of “am” or “have” has little impact.
Of course, “am” and “have” are not synonyms. It would be true for me to say “I have a wife with celiac disease.” It would not work for me to say, “I am a wife with celiac disease.” It that case, the am/have distinction is a significant one indeed!