Stella Leventoyannis Harvey

Who Am I?

You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose. You’re on your own, and you know what you know. And you are the guy who’ll decide where to go. Dr. Seuss

We had lunch this week with a friend of mine visiting from Edmonton. Her husband had passed away earlier this year. She was reconnecting with friends and family she hadn’t seen for quite some time. Her husband had been ill and she was his primary caregiver until the end.

I asked her how she was doing. I know what you’re thinking: what a dumb question.  How do you think she feels? I asked because I don’t shy away from tough discussions and because our friendship goes back a long time, and I knew she’d be candid with me. I also knew she’d want to talk about what she’d been through.

“I’m doing okay,” she said. Her voice always had a singsong, cheerful quality. Nothing had changed there, but the melancholy tone that laced its way through her words was new. “I don’t know who I am. Who am I supposed to be? What am I supposed to do?“ She said that her job now was to try to answer these questions.

Long after we said our goodbyes, I thought about her words. I’m the type of person who normally doesn’t think too much before she acts. I fall into situations, many times not knowing how I got there. Surprisingly this has worked for me.

I know what you’re thinking: how does that work? I don’t know. What I do know is that even as a child, I knew I liked people. And more than that, I could sense what they were feeling. If they were unhappy or struggling in any way, I wanted to find a way to make them smile, help them somehow. I’ve always wanted to make a difference, not in that look-at-me-aren’t-I-great kind of way, but rather in that way that says if-I-can-help-I-will.

Again, I know what you’re thinking: what a suck? What can I tell you? Making a positive difference is as important to me as the air I breathe. It just is.

When I look back at my life, I see that I’ve had many oddly divergent roles.  I consider myself lucky. Others might consider me confused. And I suppose sometimes I am. I think of the two different roles I manage now: writing (solitary and in my head) versus festival organizing (social, frenetic, people focused) and question my own sanity, particularly when time slips through my fingers like water.

Sometimes in my bleakest overworked, overstressed moments, I want the festival organizing to go away. I want to find a quiet room to hide. But then what? I can’t outrun or hide out from who I am.  In pondering my friend’s questions to herself, I found my own answers. I’m the one steering my life and knowing what I value instinctively without thought or question has helped me find my way.

If the festival organizing were to go away tomorrow, I know I’d fall into something else, some other thing that would allow me to be me. It’s really the only thing I know how to do. As Dr. Seuss says, “You’re the only guy who will decide where to go.”


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