The work of a lifetime is coming home to ourselves.
I’m a teenager studying in Japan, living with a host family. I’m a very long ways from home. Learning a new language and ways of looking at the world, I’m questioning literally everything: “Am I a human being?” “Is this planet Earth?” “Who am I?” “What if everything I know is wrong?”
I’m open to the possibility it is.
I’m in a psych ward back in Salt Lake City, studying my face in the mirror. I’ve got on little blue socks with rubber-lined soles that grip the linoleum. My footing is steady but everything else seems slippery.
I know I’m looking at myself. I recognize myself but I also do not recognize myself. I know that I don’t know who I am.
Years go by. I manage to function again as a human being on Earth.
I’m in Chicago, learning to facilitate a program designed to help its participants contribute to the creation of an environmentally sustainable, spiritually fulfilling, socially just human presence on this planet. Meeting new people far from home, I realize I can be anyone.
For some reason, the thought occurs to me that maybe I should change my last name to “Banana.”
Who could possibly take someone seriously whose name is “Bryan Banana?”
It seems so playful and unexpected that I seriously consider it—something that would disarm just about anyone upon meeting—but deep down I know I’ll never do it.
I go home without any intention to change my name. Months pass.
I’m in an Uber on the way to the airport, leaving a painfully cold New York City. The name-change idea has returned in its orbit. Maybe it’s because January’s always full of new beginnings, or something that’s been long frozen within me is beginning to thaw, or perhaps I’m ready to let go of something that no longer serves me.
I turn away from all those thoughts. I ask the driver to tell me what life is about. I ask him what it’s like where he lives.
I allow the notion of changing my name float away again, but as it leaves this time it feels like something I’m going to have to do. I don’t know why, or when, or even what I’d change it to—only that at some point I will.
I feel the same fear as when I first stood on the 15-foot high dive knowing I would do a gainer from it. “If I can’t I must.”
I’m in my early forties.
I’m at a reunion with my extended family in Idaho. We go around the room, each family member sharing the happy events that have taken place since we were last together. So many births, engagements, graduations, vacations and new homes!
I notice that we like to celebrate in community, but we tend to suffer by ourselves. And that each of us yearns to be seen—to be known—but we’re often afraid to let ourselves be seen.
It’s my turn to share. I reveal that I’ve decided to change my name. I answer the two questions I knew I would come: “To what?” and “Why?”
I answer truthfully but not completely. I know that “Because I want to,” would likely sound selfish and unsatisfying.
I know that although we can explain why we do the things we do, our true motives are often mysterious, even to ourselves. I also know that—at some level—we only ever do what we want to do.
Two weeks earlier I’m in New Mexico.
I’m participating in a sweat lodge ceremony. From where I sit, I have a clear view of the sacred fire when the door opens between the ceremony’s rounds.
When the door closes, bits of cedar are sprinkled on the hot stones, glowing red for an instant before becoming tiny plumes of smoke mixing with the participants’ prayers.
In the darkness, between songs and prayers, the ceremony leader asks, “What is wanting to be born? What is wanting to die?”
I haven’t thought of changing my name in a long while, but suddenly I know that I’ll exit the lodge with a name that’s different from the one I went in with.
I immediately worry a bit about explaining this to the other participants once we’re out, most of whom I just met a few days before. I worry a lot about how I’ll explain it to everyone else in my life.
Sometimes our lives change by tiny degrees. Sometimes we yank the wheel and make massive changes instantly.
It’s Memorial Day.
My dad died 11 years ago, but I’m at his grave, having a conversation with him. I realize it might look silly talking to a headstone, so I sit on the grass and write him a letter instead.
I do my best to write from the heart.
I thank him for all he’s done for me. Everything he’s taught me. I tell him how much I miss him. And, almost as an afterthought, I tell him I’ve given myself permission to be myself. I think he would have wanted that for me.
I know that life is as a process of becoming more of who we really are and less of who we’re really not. It’s a small but significant liberation to realize that we can try out new ways of believing and behaving to see if they suit us.
Becoming vegetarian suited me. Growing a beard suited me. Maybe tomorrow I’ll eat meat and shave my beard. But not today. (And probably not tomorrow either.)
Only you can grant yourself permission to be who you truly are. Only you can shed that which you are not.
Only you can come home to yourself.
Last week this became legally official.
I am now Brilliant Miller.
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