Say My Name, Say My Name
Names are special things. Parents agonize over choosing one
for their baby. Should they use a family name, or one that has a special
meaning, or one that is different from everybody else’s? And what about the
pressure of choosing a person’s name before you have any idea about who they
are? Can the name shape the person, or does the person define the name? Since
we live with them our whole lives, they become a part of us like no other word
or label ever does.
I’m thinking about names this week because I’ve been having fun sending suggestions to my friend Jessi, as she and her husband prepare for the arrival of their first baby. We all have strong opinions about names – especially other people’s names – but nobody’s opinion really matters when it comes to this very personal decision you make for your own babies. (If you bear with me, I’ll bring this topic around to connect it to cancer at some point, I promise.)
There is something distinctively caring and specific about saying a person’s name.
If you’re old enough to remember “Romper Room,” you know the sense of hope of watching the teacher looking into the Magic Mirror and waiting for her to say your name. I don’t think I ever heard mine, but I never stopped hoping.
Some kids don’t get to hear their name except in the most negative circumstances. People yell at them and bark commands, but hardly anyone says their name to them in a way that makes them feel loved and known. My best teacher friends know this and never fail at being that person to their most love-starved kids. Jessi is one of them, and I can’t wait to call her baby by his name. I just really hope it’s not Gaylord. I truly feel that name has run its course.
So… cancer. When you tell me that you are thinking about me, or looking forward to seeing me, or holding me in your heart, and you add my name at the end of the sentence, it brings me back to you in a more personal way. There are a lot of phrases that I hear a lot, and while they’re not not special, when you add my name at the end, it transitions from a sentence to a connection. It goes to my soul. If it makes you feel vulnerable, that’s a good sign.
In my church, before we are commissioned to go back out into the community at the end of the service, we are asked to offer our joys and concerns. We often lift up each other, but we also offer prayers for the people in our lives that are outside of our church circle. Sometimes, we have to respect confidentiality, but I prefer when we don’t, because there is a power that I feel in saying these people’s names aloud to God. Because, while God knows who we are talking about no matter what, there is power in our collectively naming the person, joining our thoughts and hopes in a moment of collective grace. It seems like it must make God’s ears perk up a little bit more when all of our hearts are saying the same name at the same time. Putting our most specific love and energy into the healing or help that we are requesting.
I know that people have been saying and praying my name for more than two years now. I feel it and know that it has affected my treatment in a positive way. And now, I’m asking you to say another name – Hunter. He’s my student. The first baby on my caseload as a new Teacher of the Visually Impaired nearly 20 years ago. He’s never spoken a single name himself, except when his OT and his mom figured out how to help him say the word, “Mama” a few years ago. (You can imagine how her heart exploded that day.) He’s one of those all-good people who’s never intentionally hurt a soul (accidental head butts during particularly energetic rounds of “Row Row Row Your Boat” don’t count). He lights up when he hears you say his name, and I just know that your saying his name now can move his treatment for some intense medical complications in the right direction. If it makes you feel vulnerable, that’s a good sign.