04 February 2017

My Name Is Love

Have you ever thought what you would be like if you had a different name? Would your personality be different? Your life experiences? Your taste in clothes or music? Names are powerful, one way or another - not necessarily life defining, but still powerful. Growing up, I hated my name. "It's a boys' name!" I would rail at my mother. And then, as various and assorted forms of "Jamie" turned out to be in the top 10 names of my era, "It's everyone's name!" I wished mightily that my middle name were my first name. I have always loved it: Elisabeth. Loved the "s" instead of the "z", loved the myriad nicknames and variations it offers. A name for each mood, says L.M. Montgomery's "Little Elizabeth" in Anne of the Island. But instead, the common could-be-boys name. It is interesting how self-loathing can be tied up with one's name, one's identity.
It got worse in college, when mass immigration became a thing, and colleges were sending letters to "Mr. Jaime Berger." In fact, at my first attempt at college, the orientation weekend had me actually listed in the boys dorms.
not spanish. not a man.
"ARGH!" sez I to my poor mother. "It isn't just a boys' name," she would tell me, "and it wasn't common when we chose it."
My dad would try to explain further: "It's French. Your mother liked it because "j'aime" is French for 'I love'."

And his words would spark further interior conflict, because especially as a teenager - hot damn, y'all, I was so consumed with the accursed 90s angst, the tail end of GenX and largely raised with the unenthusiastically-named "Generation Why". I dimly saw that we, as people, could be called to something more and greater, something beyond the burning absorption in self, beyond the anxiety and anger and tremendous confusingly painful ways of this broken world. Still, it eluded me. In darker moments, I resented being identified as "I love." What if I didn't want to? What if, like dear Michael Rosenberg, sometimes all I wanted to do is hate? And, perhaps most of all, how could I, my pathetic self, possibly live up to such a name? Still, I got to a point where I tolerated it, tolerated being called it because it was my name, that my mother gave to me.
Like most of my life, it was at college in Virginia that I began to get a glimmering of what it could mean, to have a name like that. I began to see it as a challenge, a calling beyond what I would have set for myself. I am an introvert in every sense and definition of the word - what if this name I bore, I thought, was the impetus to go beyond who I naturally am? To crawl past my weakest spots to find a new way? Where I am weak, He is strong, my Lord has promised. Maybe this place where love begins, where I have carried so much rejection bitterness disappointment disillusionment and pain - what if maybe, just possibly maybe, He wants to be strong there?
Holy moly, y'all. I can't even begin to tell you all the craziness of these last few months - but I don't need to because you have seen and experienced it all yourself. What has struck me most about it are two things: First, obviously, the INSANE fear-mongering that the media has been guilty of. All of it. Liberal, Conservative, Leftist, Traditional: very few voices of sanity are ringing in all of the hatred, scare tactics, slander, accusations that most of the media has been slinging about. (God bless the courage and determination of you few voices of reason.) All think they have firm grounds for their fear and hatred and accusations and poison-spewing. Which - Secondly, how we the people are taking this media-fed craziness - and I do mean Bedlam madness! - and going at it hammer and tongs. 
PEOPLE. Get a hold of yourselves! Just because you are typing your words onto a screen does not mean that they are not felt by the people on the other screens! Damn social media! It is so dehumanizing, in a world where we already are so torn apart. "Stupid car!" we say, shaking our fists and forgetting that the car has a driver, one who may be exhausted or sad or angry or really late or even more stressed out than we. They at least cannot hear our words, but when we spread these accusations - "Oh, where are you pro-life people now, on this immigration thing?" and "You're wrong if you think immigration is okay!" and "We'll all be killed and raped if we don't vet the immigrants!" and all these horrible wounding verbal knives we are using.

Now, let me get one thing straight before I continue here: Love, the true deepest Gospel Christian meaning of love, does not mean letting you do whatever you want. Love, like happiness, does not exist in indulging passions, following our vices, or otherwise overturning all of the natural order. The greatest Love means desiring the best for the other. Which is why Our Lord suffered and died, because He desires our greatest good, which is Himself. So: our greatest good is God, and it requires sacrifice. 

And I'll be honest: I'm still pretty shitty at loving. I lose my temper so very much more than I would like. I so often am ruled, still, by shyness and fear of others and the paralyzing tongue-tying anxiety. But dammit, I'm going to continue to try to do my best to love, which begins with respect. It means respecting the full humanity of my children, the full humanity of the women marching on Washington, the full humanity of the family next to me in Church, of the clerk at the sales counter, of the moms who don't talk to me and the friends who have appeared to abandon me. Because, dear people, most of us are so dreadfully wounded. So much of what appears to us as "hell in a handbasket" is done by people who are carrying so much pain and confusion and fear, and you will never ever EVER reach one of them unless you reach out to them with the love of Christ. Because that's what each one of us is called to do, even if you are not lucky enough to have my name. ;)  And we cannot do that unless we first determine to respect all people, even the ones calling us names. Turn the other cheek, pick up your cross, and offer love.

(If you don't believe me, read this. It's so awesome. Respect works. Fancy that.)

1 comment:

Emily said...

I came over here wondering what your place looked like after your barn envy comments, and I'm glad I read this. Thoughts similar to my own about the bigger issue, but what really struck me was how you hated your name. I always hated mine. Emily Denise. EVERYONE is named Emily. Long years back, I trained myself to not respond when I heard someone call me in public, unless it was a voice I knew. Not to turn, not to start, not to look. And Denise. Don't even get me started. It always sounded so 80's, so dated and ugly to me. I still don't like it, but I've made peace with Emily. What's the good in hating it? It's a favourite for a reason. It's sort of elegant, ladylike. I've never loved it and I doubt I ever will, but it's stuck on me and I accept that. I can be Emily. I've wondered though, who would I be if I was Catherine, Katelyn, Becky or Jessica? Or Madeleine, the name I took in Confirmation. Would I still be me? Would it make a difference?

Being uncomfortable with my name has made me doubly hesitant taking on the already hard job of naming children. It's such a huge obligation, to choose a solid name for a person you've never met, who must wear that name for life. I really hope none of my children hate the names I chose for them.