"I am are the two most powerful words in the English language."
My therapist has made this statement many, many times. (I'm a slow learner - and he is nothing if not persistent!) I hear my own patients say things like, "I am scared." "I am angry." "I am at a loss for words." "I am tired." Or, "I am unable to continue in my marriage." "I am learning a lot about myself during quarantine." Or, "I am a person diagnosed with cancer." Or, "I am gay." "I am White." "I am Black." Each one an assertion of a self, perhaps none so bold as "I am who I am."
For me, this idea of I am recalls the story of the burning bush in the Hebrew Bible. The bush "was blazing, yet it was not consumed." Moses became curious and God called to him. In the course of their conversation, God said to Moses, "I am ... I am ..." and finally, "I AM WHO I AM." So profound is this moment between God and Moses, Jews do not use vowels to spell the divine name or say it: YHWH. This name is connected to the Hebrew verb "to be," yielding a translation of "I am." According to some scholars the verb may more accurately be translated, "causes to be," indicating God's action and presence in historical affairs. (Exodus 3:1-15, NRSV) An encounter with I am is one of revelation, disclosure, and intimate contact. One which does not consume, but is beheld. This story suggests God and Moses have that kind of relationship.
On the morning of Monday June 1, I awoke to a Facebook feed of things-on-fire. Alarmed by the fires burning in my hometown, the last time Richmond burned I thought, it was the Confederates who scorched the earth - striving to leave nothing behind for the Union army. This time, it was the Museum of the Confederacy and cars that went up in flames.
The question, what in the hell is happening (?!), rose up inside me that morning. Shocked, I furiously scrolled through my news feed and saw photos of graphitti-covered monuments. I couldn't believe my eyes. It felt as if the axis of the earth had turned the opposite direction. I felt paralyzed, exhilarated, hopeful, devastated, and astonished.
Now I'm reading Ibram X. Kendi's Stamped from the Beginning. I can read 100 pages with crystal clarity. And then, I struggle through the next three, fighting heavy eyelids that want to numb me to history deep in my bones. I've engaged in listening, conversation, and existential sorting. I've measured myself on the antiracist, performative-allyship, racism, and white fragility scales as if to find some non-existent satisfactory grade. And I have confessed. So moved by the words of the Mayor of Richmond in a press conference on Thursday June 4, I felt compelled to write a manifesto.
It is a revelation, a disclosure, and a product of deep contact with my Self, my own I am. I've come to believe this kind of encounter occurs in moments either of our own choosing, or in moments that choose us. Moments writ-large, and moments microscopic. For me, Thursday June 4 was all of the above. My Self and I had a serious encounter with each other!
In my psychotherapy practice, patients and I become attuned to, observant of, and thoughtful about these moments - as if the moments of encounter, like a burning bush, are not to be consumed, but beheld. In the context of our relationships, I try to help understand and make sense of what's happenning. Even, and especially, in the axis-disrupting moments of life.