Lily, Violet, Daisy, Olive, Hazel, Ivy, Iris, Rose, Willow – flower names are popular now for baby girls, according to my pregnant daughter-in-law, who has become something of an expert. Since she and my son are expecting a boy, they’re not going the floral direction. But all the back and forth to choose the right name reminds me just how important a name is to a person’s identity. A bad experience with a guy named Matthew will taint that name, and we’re not likely to choose it for our child.
When I write novels, I have a hard time creating a character until I have his or her name right. Charles Dickens was a master at this. Pip, Mr. Pumblechook, Ebenezer Scrooge, Uriah Heap, Miss Havisham – Dickens’s character names personify them.
I find it fascinating to think that out of the thousands of names floating around in the world, I’ve been given this one and you’ve been given that, and we’ve absorbed them so completely that my name has become me and yours has become you. So what have you done with your name? Our names are part of our identity, our Self.
We’ve been exploring Self in recent posts.We’ve looked at Self as 1) non-existent, 2) sinful, 3) good and special, and 4) a brand. As I said in my last post, I’ve come to believe a deeper truth about self: 5) Self is the human version of God’s “I Am,” a phrase that comes from the Bible story of Moses and the burning bush.
Moses, a shepherd at the time, notices a bush that’s in flames but is not burning down. When he goes to take a closer look, God speaks to him, asking Moses to lead his people out of Egypt, Moses is understandably reluctant to take on the job. “The people won’t listen to me,” he says. “Even if I tell them God sent me, they’ll just ask, ‘which god? What’s his name?'” God calmly answers, “I AM who I AM. Tell them that the one who sent you is I AM” (Exodus 3:12-14). In other words, “I am Life. I am Being. I exist. I live.” It’s the mystery of God.
It’s our mystery too. In some smaller but very significant way, the first cry of a newborn is a proclamation: “I exist. I live. I have an identity. I’m a Self. I am.” Of course, it takes the journey of a lifetime to discover who I am, although I’m not convinced that we ever truly know, even at the end of life. Because we’re not static creatures. Experiences and people influence us. We act and are acted upon. We change.
An old Jewish story tells of a revered rabbi named Zusia, whose followers gathered around his doorstep every morning to hear his teaching. One morning, Zusia emerged from his house with shoulders slumped and eyes red-rimmed and swollen.
His followers could see that he had been weeping. Alarmed, they asked, “What’s wrong, Zusia?”
Zusia shook his head, saying, “I have just learned what the angels will one day ask me.”
A disturbed murmur passed among his followers. One of them called out, “What will the angels ask you?”
The rabbi sighed. “I have learned that the angels will not ask, ‘Zusia, why were you not a Moses to lead your people to freedom?'”
His followers frowned. One leaned forward and said, “Then what will the angels ask?”
Zusia moaned. “I have learned that they will not ask, ‘Zusia, why were you not a Joshua to lead your people into the Promised Land?'”
“Then what?” asked another follower. “What will the angels ask?”
Zusia placed a hand over his heart and looked to the sky. “I have learned that the angels will one day ask me, ‘Zusia, why were you not . . . Zusia?'”
Self is our individual being or life force expressed in an essentially unique identity. I am. You are. The essence of self is ours to keep. We don’t ever lose it. We can expand it or contract it, be generous or stingy with it, love it or hate it, parade it around or subject it to someone else’s authority until it all but disappears, but we always have it. We are ours to keep, and even if someday we look in the mirror and can’t remember who we are, that doesn’t erase us. It simply becomes part of the story of our journey. We are the pioneers of our own lives. We’re the explorers. No one has ever lived your life or mine before, and no one ever will.
I’ll finish my musings about the Self next week, and then we’ll move on. Meanwhile, I wish you well on this unmapped journey called Life.
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Text © 2016 Karyn Henley. All rights reserved.
Photos courtesy morguefile.com.
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