(Surely my identity is not) Skin Deep

Readers – Here’s a Fun Fact! Both Robynn (from Fridays with Robynn) and I have our noses pierced. We got them pierced years ago — years before it was cool to do so….! And the thing is – we’ve sort of forgotten that they’re pierced. They are so much a part of us. Until something happens…..Join Robynn for (Surely my identity is not) Skin Deep.


Last week was a wonder week. I cancelled everything. I stripped it down to an empty calendar. I needed to rest and recover. I had an episode of vertigo that knocked me off the my kilter the previous weekend but I was also just worn down, tired out, empty.

So I took a week off.

And it was lovely.

Until I realized, to my horror, that my identity is only skin deep.
On Thursday I was dressing in a rush. I pulled my tee-shirt over my head and it caught on my ski-slope nose, grabbed onto my nose pin and yanked it out. With my shirt safely on I began to look for my nose pin. My husband, seeing my distress, immediately began to help me. We searched. We patted down the carpet, feeling for it with each tap. We looked in my shirt. We looked on the bed, under the bed, on the cat, under the cat. It was nowhere. The magic tee-shirt had made it disappear!

Really in the large scheme of things,….it’s no big deal. And yet you wouldn’t have known that by my response. My eyes filled with tears and I began to sob. I cried hard. I fell apart. Lowell kindly held me, knowing somehow, that this was bigger than a nose pin.

The nose pin disappeared in the context of a bigger identity quest. We’ve been back in the US now for 6 years. I feel in my bones that it’s time for a big change. It’s time to move on. It’s certainly time to live again someplace foreign and then familiar. It’s just time. But a move isn’t on the horizon. The suitcases are safely stowed downstairs. The passports are in the tornado-safe safe. No one here is going anywhere.

My nosepin served to mark me as a little different. Although nose piercings are now in vogue for the younger generation, it’s still a mark of peculiarity for a middle-aged woman. It set me apart. It said she may look like you but she’s foreign, strange, from a different place than you. And I liked that distinction. It was a forever reminder of my other places: Pakistan and India.

I first had my nose pierced when I was 18 years old. Boarding school ritual always included an “under pillow present” for the first night of boarding. After agonizing goodbyes mom and dad would drive away through their tears. I would stand at the bathroom window and wave until they were gone from sight. And then I’d wipe the tears from my eyes momentarily and rush to my pillow. Underneath it was always a little present of some kind. When I was in grade 12 that present was a note with some money saying that I could get my nose pierced! I was ecstatic! I had wanted that for a long while and it thrilled me that my parents had said yes. The one stipulation mom and dad placed was that Marilyn Gardner had to be the one to take me. Even in those days, Marilyn was a trusted person. She was a nurse–mom and dad were sure she would take me to a clean, hygienic place. They were probably afraid I’d let the first back alley piercer I could find put a hole in my nose and I’d catch gangrene and a horrendous infection and my entire nose would fall off.

But they trusted Marilyn.

We made a weekend of it! Cliff and Marilyn were living in Islamabad at the time. I caught a ride down the hill and went to visit. They treated me like royalty! They loved on me lavishly. This wasn’t my only weekend with them. Each time was a sweet treat. Coming from the boarding school group, they generously interacted with me as an individual. But this particular weekend visit also included a trip to Jinnah Market. There in an upscale jeweller’s shop I had my nose pierced.

And my soul was further tethered to Pakistan, the land of my childhood.

Just under a year later, after I had graduated from high school, the conservative Bible College I attended requested that I remove my nose pin. They felt it would hinder my settling into Canada. I think they had never encountered such an anomaly before and they framed up their freak out in terms of cultural adjustment. Initially I resisted but then I quietly removed it. I regretted that removal for years. Those years of settling into Canada were so incredibly painful…I actually think having the nose pin might have helped. My fellow students often assumed I was just like them…having my nose pierced would have told them what I already knew:

I was different.

Years later, after Lowell and I were married, and we returned to Asia to settle in North India the first thing I did was have my nose repierced. My friend, Dianne, accompanied me. We went to a Chinese Beauty Parlour (unsettlingly close to the Golden Dragon Chinese Restaurant!) and the Nepali beautician, with red paste on her forehead and a green gingham apron tied around her waist, pierced my nose.
And so my soul was now tied to India.

But last week it fell out. After twenty years I lost my nose pin. And I didn’t handle it very well. It was like I lost me in the weave of the carpet. I disappeared into the floor of the bedroom. I was yanked out violently and mysteriously I am now gone.
Of course I know logically that I am not my nosepin. My identity is not skin deep. I am more than this outer identifying mark. My counsellor has been slowly telling me, in my moments of agony over issues of identity, that part of who I am is what I contribute. I bring to the world my self, my true self, and I give. That’s helped me deflect some of the inner anguish. I didn’t bring to the world my nose and it’s lovely bling. I bring to the world my story, my passions, my convictions, my experiences, my joys and sorrows, the ways that I am wired and gifted.

The hole has already closed over. I found another pin in my stash of bits and pieces but I couldn’t get it back in. It had already sealed up. My nose feels naked and vulnerable.

Tucked away in the book of Exodus there are some obscure laws concerning servants. In those days if a slave did not want to leave his master – if he loved his master.and wanted to stay, there was to be an outward symbol declaring this commitment. The man’s ear would be pierced and this would be an outward identifier of who he was, and who he loved, who he was loyal to…

This post is not about slavery but about identity. —And my nose pin? It was an outward identifier of who I was and what I loved. Perhaps I should repierce it. Maybe that would serve to settle me here, tether my restless spirit and tie my roaming heart to a new place, to this place.

19 thoughts on “(Surely my identity is not) Skin Deep

  1. How smart you are! I wish I’d had the foresight to have some physical identifier for my differentness *before* we returned to the U.S. I struggled so much…trying to figure out how to meld me with this new “home” culture. From the outside though, no one could tell that my insides were different…except for what I wore and how I did my hair. I loved bright, bold colors and shiny metallics. However, in the community where I began college, also religiously conservative and in the Pacific Northwest, anyone wearing those things was a social pariah. My boyfriend, a local, was horrified at my appearance and constantly critiqued my clothes and hair and shoes. Gradually I “toned myself down” for him, and so I could have “friends.” It worked for a while until one day I snapped and I grew out my bangs in defiance of my boyfriend. Then I found all the “slutty clothes” I could find (that’s what he called them) and I put them on and dared him to break-up with me…and then I broke up with him. It’s taken me almost 20 years to find my place in this culture. But I can tell you that it helps tremendously when I wear my Middle Eastern/Indian-style clothes and huge metal-stamped earrings and my kol eyeliner. That’s when I finally feel like me enough to access the rest of the answers I need.


    1. Love this comment Gysela! These outward identifiers are important. I do it in my house as well – the Middle Eastern combined with Pakistani – bright colors, fabrics and all that. Funny that when I lived in the Middle East – I wanted Home Goods sort of things to decorate with….


      1. Yes! I can relate to that as well! What I brought back to the U.S. were not things I now want or use…I generally want the stuff I got rid of. And, like you, I’m now decorating in shimmery silks and bright colors and textures, and soft fabrics and hang them from the ceilings and am starting to collect lanterns. I LOVE it!


    2. Love your descriptions of your decor….I could have guessed from your gravatar that you love silks and textures. So fun. The bright fabrics found in bazaars and markets around the world get into our souls I think! Bright and light.


  2. I understand this too well. When the seminary hired me to be a ‘ghost writer’ for the President, I was told to “be seen and not hard, and preferably not seen.” No one needed to know a young woman was writing the President’s speeches and sermons. But they also made me remove my 7 piercings, and quit wearing a necklace which had a bone on it. All of these things linked me back to my past in Papua New Guinea, and the effects of writing anonymously at the same time as being stripped of my identity were devastating: I became utterly and hopelessly depressed, feeling indeed, neither seen nor heard.

    NEVER again. The job was not worth it.


    1. I totally agree with your last two thoughts. Never again is right. Unlike Robynn I have never been asked to take off my nose pin for a job or school. I made the decision a long time ago that I would wear it to each and every interview. It’s tiny. It’s unobtrusive. And I personally think its a classy piece of jewelry. I decided if they wanted me not to wear than it wasn’t the right job for me. I’ve gotten every job I wanted…, may seem immature to some but not to me. Thanks for your thoughts although I want to rise up in your defense and send a letter to that school :) Marilyn Gardner g Sent from my iPhone


  3. It’s funny what you say about the nose ring. I say it’s funny because I have been wanting to get one but have been a bit reserved because of what my family and my family in the USA would say. I realize, in reading your post, that I have the same reason for wanting to pierce it to begin with. I was to show that I am different. I am also learning to let my inner self out a bit more – the part that is a bit daring and a bit risky and to push the boundaries. I’ve always been a ‘good girl’ and I guess I’m tired of that persona. I’m tired of being ‘the missionary’. Not that I don’t want to be doing what we are doing. I just don’t want the stereotype – the assumptions of who I am – the pedestal. I have cringed for years when we’ve been back in the USA visiting churches – cringed waiting for the light to go on. ‘Oh, you’re the Missionary.’ The ah ha moment. I want to say ‘no, I’m just me. Just Jill. Nothing extraordinary. Nothing super spiritual about me. I’m just me. Please see me and not the persona. Not the stereotype. Not the pedestal.’
    So anyway, I had the ‘ah ha’ moment when I read your blog. So THAT’S part of the issue with the nose ring. Identity. And that’s OK. Now I just need to find someone fun to go with me to have it done!!


    1. Oh Jill! I’d go with you in a second! Where in the world are you? I could get mine redone in whatever place you are…. That would be pure joy!
      This identity crisis is growing old, wearisome…. You’re done with the “good girl” image…I’m nervous I’m not as caring as I’ve thought I am… What if I actually don’t care at all?
      And now the stripping of my nose pin….What I didn’t write is that this is the second time my nose pin has fallen out in that exact same way…. getting dressed, in my bedroom, stuck in the shirt. It first happened late last Fall and then again just now. What is God saying? Am I reading too much in to bring God into it? After all, surely He doesn’t hide in my tee-shirts? But what does it mean? Who am I really? Who am I without my nose pin? Sigh…
      Thanks for commenting on this post.


      1. I live just outside of Madrid, Spain. I am the only non TCK in my family, but I understand a lot of the identity issues. We have been here in Spain since 1995. I spent so much time watching my teammate to see ‘what a missionary does’ when we first arrived. Cuz see, she was an MK who grew up in Zaire and went to school in CAR. I figured she knew what she was doing. :-) I have also been the ‘good girl’ who tries to be what everyone thinks they should be. I am also the youngest in a family that shifted from unbelieving when I was really little to being very right wing conservative by the time I graduated high school. I still struggle being around my family – trying to love them in spite of the fact that their ‘legalism’ and cultural Christianity is driving me bonkers!!
        I guess I am trying to find the freedom that Christ brings – in who He has made me to be. At times I get excited to see the passions he has put in my heart and the abilities and love too. But I still feel stuck – a lot because those passions are outside of what my husband desires me to do. Sigh.
        And so the ‘outside the box’ side of me is trying to get out – in subtle but noticable ways. And that’s ok. I have till the day I die to figure this out – and He walks each day with me helping to sort out the muddle I feel I am. The phrase from an old Amy Grant song comes to mind – the now and the not yet. But Father smiles and I seek to express who he has made me to be.
        I confess that I almost got a nose ring with my teammate in January before she moved to Berlin!! But I was having allergies and the inside of my nose felt like a battle zone. But I will be in Venice and then Slovenia the second half of this month and I plan to look for a place to have it done – and my teammate will be there too!!
        So, I’ll let you know!! It WOULD be fun if you could be here to do it too!!


  4. thinking of you with great affection Robynn. We have been here in Australia almost six years now too and like you, I desperately want a move to be on the horizon but it’s not. It feels like I’m trapped. I can understand the nose ring being important, these things, although small tell us who we are and what’s important to us. xx


    1. Thank you Sophie. I’m so sorry for the restlessness you too are feeling. I hate that feeling of being trapped and stuck. I empathize….we’re in this together….


  5. Robynn,
    I felt the same way after 7 years in the same place in San Francisco: something inside me told me I had to move–it was time! I was very unsettled and unhappy, feeling that something was deeply wrong. How could I continue living here in the States so long? Why couldn’t we just leave? It has been hard for me to continue here since.
    I don’t have an answer for you. I felt the same need to show I was different before people eventually found out I was anyway, inside. At one time I died my hair neon pink just to be blatant, and I immediately felt better. Unfortunately my husband didn’t like it and kept asking me to change back to “normal” (!) so I stopped after a while.
    But if you find out how to fit in here while being different, I’d love to hear it. In the meanwhile, all I can say is that you are not alone. And the way to go on is just one day at a time. I am grateful for this blog and for the few friends I have who try to understand.


    1. Oh Maureen!! Thank you so much for your comments here. I love it that you dyed your hair! Perhaps fitting in is over-rated….I don’t know. I’d love to feel that sense of belonging that others seem to have…but the idea of actually belonging here scares me too. I appreciate you interacting with this piece.


  6. Robynn, I love this! I’ll be waiting to hear if you do get it re-pierced. I’m quite confident though that you know who you are with or without the nose pin. It seems to me from reading this that it’s part of what you want other people to know about you. That’s probably a good enough reason. Blessings!


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