I am not I

“This is not who I am,” tweets a millionaire whose racist email about President Obama has been intercepted and published.

“This is not who we are,” sing a chorus of pundits in antiphonal response to a Senate report demonstrating that the United States government, like other governments, tortures people.

And today’s snailmail brings, for the second time this year, this letter.

img221Enclosed with the letter are three low-resolution photographs showing a smiling middle-aged man with sandy hair beginning to go gray. He is a man of leisurely action, apparently. In one image he is wearing a white turtleneck as he sits among a crowd in bleachers; in another he is seen closeup in morning dress with wing collar; and in the third he is seated in a small aircraft next to a pretty girl.

This is not who I am.

But I do share my sense of who I am not with the millionaire and the chorus of pundits. After all, that sense is built into the language we all hold in common. It has been built in for centuries. Here, on damaged paper, is its theory.

And its practice comes to us still. If we bid it to teach us, it will. Undamaged amid the clutter of torture instruments, it will explain what we are not to who we are not, saying: