It all starts with the game of Quidditch.
Quidditch is a game played throughout the Harry Potter series. It’s popularity in the wizarding world is like the popularity of football (soccer to Americans) in the real world. The game is played on broomsticks and the object is to get a ball through a goal post. But there’s an additional piece to the game that makes the difference between winning and losing.
There is a small golden ball that whizzes around the air, almost invisible it goes so fast. Each team has a “Seeker” and it is the seeker’s job to always be on the lookout for the snitch and to catch it. No matter how many goals the other team gets, if the opposite team catches the snitch then they immediately get 150 points. A game is generally won or lost based on who gets the snitch.
But the snitch is elusive. It flutters here and there, one minute visible, the next out of sight. One minute within your grasp, the next minute far beyond your reach.
In some ways this snitch is like the identity of those who live between worlds. One minute our identity is secure and we hold it tight. We walk confidently, knowing who we are and what we’re about. The next minute we are searching madly, insecure in our current reality, our identity just out of reach. We wonder why, like the snitch, it suddenly disappears. One day I have caught up with my identity and feel like a winner. The next day it has fluttered away and I am madly chasing it on my broomstick, desperate to grab it and hold on to it.
In the Harry Potter books, there are times when our hero, Harry, catches the snitch. He emerges the winner and he basks in the glory of success, of knowing he did what he set out to do in the game. Other times he doesn’t catch the snitch, something blocks him and his team loses.
Our true identity needs to be in something far more stable than the snitch. Far more stable than that fluttering, golden ball that is sometime visible and attainable and other times completely out of sight, out of our grasp.
Can living between worlds be a crucial part of us without fully defining us?
After living in the United States for seven years we moved to Phoenix, Arizona. I remember getting off the plane in the middle of July. It was 122 degrees outside. I took one step outside and suddenly I felt like I would no longer have to fight to catch the identity snitch. It was like a massive weight fell off and I could walk freely. I’m not sure what it was, but after seven long years, my culture shock and the massive disconnect I felt living in the United States was no longer a backpack full of baggage. Instead it was just part of the process.
Three years into my time in Arizona I was talking to someone who had been a friend since I had arrived. She found out that I had grown up in Pakistan and then lived and raised a family in Pakistan and Egypt. “I never knew that!” she said. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
I cannot tell you how proud I was that she had known me for three years and I hadn’t immediately introduced myself as someone who lived between worlds. It felt like a giant step forward. I also loved that she was interested, that she wanted to know, that we could have a conversation without me feeling like an alien organism.
In the book Between Worlds, I devote an entire section to essays on identity. In an essay called “Chameleon” I wrote this:
“Any third culture kid who is living effectively in her passport country has a moment of truth when she realizes it’s okay to live here; it’s okay to adjust; it’s okay, even if she never feels fully at home, to feel a level of comfort in who she is in her passport country. To adapt doesn’t mean settling for second best. To adapt is to use the gifts she developed through her childhood in order to transcend cultures and to find her niche in both worlds.”*
Some days I go backwards, and I get on that broomstick and try to catch that snitch. I end up exhausted and defeated. I’m brought back into healthy reality when I admit my longing to be back in a place where I like myself better, where I feel more at home, and then move forward remembering again that “Identity is not a place I live at, but a Person I live in.”
What about you? How has identity eluded you like the snitch?
*Both quotes from Between Worlds – Essays on Culture and Belonging © Doorlight Publications, July 2014