I've thought a lot about the word missionary these past few weeks. Until 4 weeks ago, that word was a big part of my identity. When introducing myself, I always coupled that word with my name. Привет я Сестра Пью, я миссионерка церкви Иисуса Христа святых последнее дней. I remember how long it took people to understand me when I said that word in Russian. You're what? Missionary. What? Missionary! It was like I needed extra chances to confirm my identity. I am a missionary. A missionary. ME. A missionary. Missionary.
I think I did need extra time to embrace that identity. I hated being called Sister Pugh for the first five or so months. I was Hannah. I wasn't ready to give up my identity. And then, at a certain point, things changed. I realized that I wasn't becoming Sister Pugh at the expense of Hannah. I realized that somehow they would one day mesh together into something better. I got over the fear of losing myself to my name tag. I knew I was a missionary when I referred to myself as Sister Pugh inside my own head.
And then I came home and I wasn't Sister Pugh any more. I no longer introduced myself as a missionary. I became something different. I think that in that moment of loss for identity, I started reaching for words that described me, some old and some new. English major. Aspiring midwife. Mormon. Woman. Feminist. Liberal. Daughter. Writer. Reader. Thinker. Driver. We all know the words.
As I did that, I started feeling this pressure to live up to the labels There was tension between them. A feminist is supposed to be like this but a Mormon is supposed to be like this and there is a lot of conflict between those two supposed to bes. I started feeling trapped in a way I hadn't felt in a long time. It was like trying to run towards 8 people all at once; you can't take a single step towards one without betraying another.
Which led me to really think about the labels. When I came home, one of the strongest desires I had was to be true to myself and what I'd learned. I've never felt so free to be myself as I did on my mission. I realize that probably sounds ridiculous to many, because missionaries have so many rules and in so many ways are so the same, but on my mission, I was free from all the labels I'd previously picked for myself, because they simply didn't fit into what I was doing. I felt like, for the first time ever, I was being my real genuine self. It was a self I didn't even know I had, but there she was, waiting to be exposed under all the labels of what I thought I was or wanted to be. And I liked her a lot. I felt good.
One thing I've really come to understand these past weeks is that I am so over being defined by labels. I am rejecting the labels. I'm cutting myself lose from them. It's only been a couple weeks, but already I am so tired of feeling like I have to be certain things because of adjectives I use to describe myself. I want to be myself. I am way more interesting than that walking buzzfeed list of stereotypes I so often feel like I need to conform to. I am reclaiming that freedom to be myself and to be more complicated than any handful of words. I am claiming back the right to be authentic and confident and happy.
I'll tell you one thing I know am; I am a Ukrainian-kitchen dweller. I'll ever cherish all my hours spent in the kitchens of people I love baking, praying, eating, drinking tea, talking, learning, reading, laughing, sharing stories and becoming friends. Sometimes, when I miss Ukraine, I miss the kitchens the most. (And who I was in those kitchens.)