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I’ve come down with a case of the Who am I…?-itis.

Perhaps you’ve had it, too.

You know, the voice that comes chiming in from time to time? When you’re all full of confidence and lofty dreams, and you’ve made grand plans to fling yourself into something new?

That voice that says, Who am I to think I can do that?

Making my Who am I…?-itis worse—someone unfollowed me on Instagram. As I write that sentence, I know it is the silliest thing ever.

Someone unfollowed me on Instagram.

It should be noted that if someone I knew uttered those words to me, I would absolutely, unequivocally say to them, “REALLY? Maybe you should get a real problem???”

Sometimes I get judgey.

Is judgey a real word? (See.)

Anyway. The person who unfollowed me, it wasn’t a person I knew. It was someone I briefly met at an Instameet, where people from the Instagram community gather at one place in a city for the sole purpose of taking pictures. 5:30am, standing on a subway platform in the chill of a windy early spring morning, about to chase a sunrise. We greeted each other, as strangers in a ridiculous situation do. Hi, I’m me and Hi, you’re you. We exchanged Instagram handles, so we could follow each other and see our pictures from that day. And that was that.

Over the months that followed, he would often “like” my pictures. Whenever I would see his name pop up, I would feel a small amount of pride. This person, with a sizable social media following, likes my pictures! It felt like validation. Like, okay, maybe I can take a decent picture. Maybe I have something to say.

And then the other day, I realized I hadn’t seen his name in a while. So I did the thing you should never do if you ever want to maintain any sense of sanity anywhere in the vicinity of the world of social media. I checked my list of followers. And his name was gone.

The Who am I…? voices got even louder. I mean, there are REAL photographers in the world. You probably take too many pictures of your food—and who cares what you ate/are eating/cooked/are cooking, anyway? And there are people who are REAL food photographers. And REAL cooks.

Who am I to do any of it?

The things we put ourselves through.

A day later, I was waiting on the bus stop, en route to see a friend. I was on my phone, doing goodness knows what, when a woman walked up to me, sighed and said, Hi.

My New Yorker guard went up. Hi, I said tentatively.

She asked me how to get to a certain cross section, the location of a hospital. She’d had surgery on her brain and hadn’t felt right, so she wanted to get checked out.

I told her where she could get a ticket for the limited service bus, which she should take since it would get her there faster. She didn’t have any money, she said.

This was one of those city-specific moments; as she was talking, I was wrestling with how long I would continue with this conversation. A reality of urban life is encountering people from all walks of life, all with very real (and some not so real) problems. As a sensitive person, I am like a sponge for everyone’s emotions. I’ve learned the art of putting up invisible boundaries in order to protect my own sense of well being, particularly in this city where everyone wants something from you.

She kept talking. And because I am polite and she seemed like a kind person, I kept listening.

She was glad to be alive. She had been in the service and saw things that changed her. That no one should see, go through, be immersed in. She enlisted after her mother died because she needed a purpose.  She was in the military for 7 years. After she came home and dealt with her head trauma, after surgery, she said the military wanted her for another tour. This made her laugh. She was thankful to laugh and to be alive and to have breath sigh out of her lungs every day.

I listened, and I nodded, and I smiled when it was appropriate. I was moved by what she was saying, but I was desperately trying not absorb the energy of it.

The regular bus came, and I needed to be on my way. I told her to wait for the limited bus because she could get on in any door and chances are they wouldn’t check for tickets.

God bless you, she smiled.

Bless you, too, I smiled back.

Thank you for talking to me, she called out, as I started towards the bus.

Those six words, so open and vulnerable and honest, almost made me burst into tears right there on 2nd Avenue.

Whether we are wrestling with head trauma or social media rejection, we all really want the same thing.  We all just want to be seen.

There’s that saying, the struggle is real. It makes me laugh every time I hear it. The store was out of Nutella…the struggle is real.  

But you know what? IT IS. And so, maybe our job in life is to bear witness to the people around us. To acknowledge each other’s hardships and sadness and struggles.

We have these moments of “Who am I…”-itis, where we feel less than and not entitled to dare to dream of a circumstance better than the one we’re in. Who am I to dream?

With breath in my lungs and health in my body, who am I not to?

As for my Instagram unfollower? He had his reasons, whatever they may be. Ultimately the people who are supposed to witness how I see the world and my musings, will.

Like you. 🙂 Here’s one of my favorite photos from this week.

IMG_2612

We don’t always know where we’re going, but our deep selves will get us there. Who we are is infinitely braver than any of us can imagine.

xo, with goodness and grace.

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