The following dialogue is from the 1946 movie, Somewhere in the Night. It’s a little long, but I think it’s worth it. George Taylor is a Marine veteran suffering from amnesia brought on by an explosion during the war. As he is trying to piece together his story, he has this conversation with a young lady he meets.
Look, I’ve got to talk to somebody. I’ll go crazy if I don’t talk to somebody. I’m somebody. I think you are. What do you know about amnesia?
Not much. Something that happens to you. You forget who you are or where you belong. Isn’t that it?
Yeah. Every now and then you read about it in a newspaper. A guy named John Doe was picked up in a fog. Never happens to anybody you know. It happened to me. Yeah, for all I know I might have been born six months ago. That’s a joke because six months ago I woke up in a hospital. That’s where babies are born in a hospital. Only this was different. I was in the south Pacific, and it wasn’t the maternity ward. My jaw was wired. I couldn’t talk. I couldn’t ask who I was. I . . . I nearly went nuts. Then I found my wallet. There was a letter in it. No name. No signature. Just a letter. It—it told me about myself. It told me good. From then on I lived with that letter. It went around in my head like a crazy squirrel on a hopped-up treadmill. I was scared and I was sick. Sick to my heart at what the letter said I was like . . . and scared of anybody finding it out. Scared I’d find it out myself. I didn’t want to know any more. So I kept my mouth shut. I got away with it, got my discharge. And I thought maybe I could start with a brand new-score pad. But you can’t just throw away—how many years of living? I don’t even know? Do you know what it’s like, Christy, to be alone in the world? Really alone in the whole world? A billion people, and every one of them a stranger. Or what’s worse, not a stranger. Somebody maybe who knows you, hates you, wants you to die.
All in all, the film is a rather standard example of film noir. But there’s something compelling about the isolation and alienation George Taylor experiences as a result of his amnesia. He is conflicted as he struggles to establish an identity. He knows what is right but there’s also evidence that he hasn’t lived that way (think The Bourne Identity in black and white). And as with Jason Bourne, there’s an integrity about George Taylor. He’s unsure as to who he really is or what he might have done, but good or bad, he wants to know—he needs to know.
Years ago, when I was serving as a volunteer chaplain for a hospital, I received a call to come see a patient. It was a man in his thirties who had been in a car accident. He was married and had a family. The wreck had left him with temporary amnesia. What troubled him the most was that a woman had come to see him claiming that the two of them were having an affair. As he recounted her visit to me, he said he didn’t remember her but didn’t have any real reason to doubt her story. What should he do? He needed to know.
While probably not as dramatic as the movies or the man in the hospital, every human being struggles with establishing and maintaining their identity. In many ways, this is the very stuff that life consists of. We can allow our environment to define us, our peers, our circumstances, or any number of things. Or, we can decide who we want to be. If we choose the latter, we can be sure there will be a steady stream of forces that will try to alter and move us from our identity.
This is why throughout the Scripture we constantly find words that point us toward who we are. Words like Christian, disciple, brother/sister, saint, a holy priesthood, God’s temple, and others are more than verbal nudges—they are part of our spiritual DNA. Surely one reason for the Supper is to remind us on a weekly basis of our fundamental identity—sinners saved by grace and called to walk in the steps of Jesus. We are to grow in the direction of these things.
A teenage girl was about to leave her family for a few days. I can’t remember now if it was camp or a retreat, but I was giving her a ride. I remember her father’s parting words to her, they were short and succinct. He said, Remember who you are. They were good words for her and good words for us.