What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell just as sweet. Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare
So, what IS in a name?
Some people don’t like their own given name, and sometimes we don’t like someone else’s name. Sometimes we are in wonderment at how someone might have arrived at a particular name, or notice that a name has a funny ring to it, or sounds like it might be from another language than our own, etc. I remember disliking my name when I was young. I much preferred nicknames to my own given name when I was a teenager. That changed as I grew into an adult, but not necessarily for the reasons this post is about… until now.
Our family has another grandbaby on the way — our third. So it’s an exciting time! I was teasing the kids about naming the baby after me — even if it was a boy — or combining mine and mother’s names — DeboRosa. Yeah, I know how it sounds. My former husband says it sounds too much like “ambrosia,” which I still feel qualifies it for the possibility list. (I’m seriously just kidding.)
When I was out for my walk the other day, I was chuckling to myself about that conversation. Then I started thinking about our children’s names. All three boys are named after beloved family members who are not only loved, but strong in character. The lone girl’s name was chosen because it sounded pretty (and it is — almost as pretty as her). Our first granddaughter is named the same way, and our first grandson is named after his father and has a middle name with a very special meaning in Spanish. Anyway, that’s the context for this post.
As I and my thoughts meandered around the neighborhood, it occurred to me just how much I love our kids’ names, and how much they mean to me. I started thinking about the things I mentioned above about my own name, about times when I couldn’t imagine why someone would name a child “that,” or when I heard someone making fun of a name because it sounded “foreign.” I know people who have changed their names because they didn’t like them, and others because the name they were given at birth did not match their gender identity. I know some who have changed their names because they wanted a more American-sounding name. (That makes me sad for a few reasons.) I also recalled some people whose names make me personally feel a particular way — upset, angry, sad, fearful, anxious. And there are still others when I hear them, I feel joy, love, warmth, happiness. But I couldn’t recall ever hearing a parent say that they regretted giving a particular name to their child/ren.
I worked in various positions in healthcare, primarily women’s health for many years. Names were important, and spellings of those names were extremely important. I used to keep a list in my drawer of the peculiar or unusual ones. Some seemed thoughtful, but others still have me scratching my head to this day. Nonetheless, someone cared about those names enough and whatever was behind them to dole them out to a most precious gift.
How do people respond to your name? How do they feel when they hear it? How do you feel about your own name? How will you hear names after this?
When your parent/s gave you your name, it sounded like love in their soul, like music to their ears, a song etched in their heart, or a sweet memory worthy of sharing. It meant something to the person that thoughtfully gave you your name, and they heard something in it, knew someting about it no one else could hear, see, or feel quite the same.
I was remembering a suggestion someone made, tongue-in-cheek, about how politicians should wear suits or jackets like professional auto racers wear. You know the ones that have patches and graphics all over them showing who their sponsors are? I wish we would do that. It will never happen though. They don’t really want us to easily identify, or in some cases ever identify who donates to their campaigns because then we would really see what is behind their masks and who they really serve. But then that had me thinking a little further — about all of us. What if there were specific characteristics that showed the world who we are, what we are like as soon as anyone laid eyes on us — characteristics that couldn’t be changed? We already have issues with making assumptions based on skin, national origin, sex, etc. But what if naturally blue hair meant you hit your wife? What if checkered grey and green skin meant you were a cheater? What if lavender lips meant you were chronically mean? What if hair that grew straight up front, but tight and curly in the back showed that someone was a narcissist? Or what if whatever clothes we put on for the day and our bodies just instantly became tagged with these clues? What would that be like? Would that cause us to be kinder, to be quicker to care about how our actions affected others? The possibilities are endless… but I’ll bet a lot of us are glad this is just a daydream from a walk.
Naomi Osaka and Simone Biles have made me look harder at what grace really means lately, or at least what it can look like. Each has pulled out of major athletic events recently to tend to their own mental health and safety, and they have been widely publicized and scrutinized. Each was dragged on social, print, television, and radio media. But even more importantly, each was revered, lauded and applauded, and supported by so many more, and even defended on those platforms. Perhaps you are one of the people coming to stand with and behind Osaka’s and Biles’ decisions to back out of competition – or you had negative feelings when Osaka did it, but after hearing favorable commentary on what she did, you came around to a new way of thinking when Biles made a similar choice. I have no argument with those reactions whatsoever. In fact, I feel like that is progress that so many of us are showing that kind of love and support – grace, if you will. That is the loving response, and certainly the God-centered one. We should remember that their bodies and minds are sacred temples unto themselves, and do not belong to anyone other.
St. Augustine said, “What is grace? I know until you ask me; when you ask me, I do not know.” As spiritual beings we know grace to be favor or even sincere kindness and allowance from our God-source that we grant. It is not something only God can grant. Because we have the source within, it is a choice we can make. It is at once an understanding, while we may not yet totally understand. It is a conscious choice and action that begins within rather than from factors without. Was St. Augustine correct in his assessment of grace? It is my opinion that he was, in that we sometimes forget that we have choice over this and forget from where grace begins. Romans 3:24 talks about the grace of God being given freely. Therefore, it is not a stretch to understand that it is also ours to give. We are creative expressions of the Oneness within… so let us examine where we fall short when we just forget.
These young women’s very public and personal situations bring forward important questions for us personally. First, are you showing grace to the people in your life – your spouse, neighbor, parent, child (young or grown), best friend, student, employee or subordinate, etc. – are you also giving them the same allowances, favor, and grace as you have given the famous and very public Osaka and Biles? ‘Just something to think about. Everyone has problems, difficulties, struggles. No one is immune. It might be financial disparities, physical or mental health issues, relationship struggles… there is a myriad of possibilities here. If their response does not align with what we think, or they are taking too long (in our opinions) to resolve it, or we are tired of hearing about it, what then is our response? Grace does not have to look like agreement or even complete understanding, but it will always look like support and the space for that person to be where they are while being covered in our love.
Finally, and extremely important, are you also standing up for yourself? Are you giving your own sacred self the same grace that you are giving these very gifted athletes and others in your life? We often see a bit of our own humanity in others when they go through some ordeal publicly, or when someone we love is in the middle of maneuvering complex decisions. Yet, there are times when we assign more importance to someone else’s plight. There are times when it feels easier to publicly give someone outside of us grace and then walk back into our own lives and drop that mantle outside our own front door. We may not even realize we do that. Self-deprecating actions can be unconscious and habitual. Remember that you are deserving of no less grace than our Wayshower and brother, Jesus the Christ, exampled for us and that which is a constant from God.
Let us fine-tune the way we think of grace. Grace is not an award to grant. It is the truth, the reminder, and the acceptance that we are one with God, and one with each other. We are each but one part of the whole. It is an active admission that we are connected and different (not separate) at the same time – interconnected – and that not one of us deserves less or more of anything. If we can find it within ourselves to grant it when public or celebrity calls are made for it, we need only to reach nearer and harder and put it into practice for ourselves and those in our circles (1Peter 4:8). Imagine the world that will show up out of that.
I hear a lot lately about cancel culture. I’m sure it has its negative impacts, as I can see how we might want to jump the gun or be specifically harsh to someone if our feelings have been hurt in some way. I can also see how it is necessary if someone is toxic or dangerous to our very being. More specifically, today I got to thinking about people that claim to love us or have our highest interests at heart — someone we live with, a spouse, a neighbor, a relative, or a friend.
Sometimes people just aren’t for you, even if they have love for you. Sometimes people just are not your tribe, or someone truly isn’t your person. Everyone has some kind of genius inside of them, and you will know your tribe by the fact that they not only recognize it, but they actually celebrate it, and they might even recognize it in you before you realize it. That’s your tribe; that’s your person!
The trash can’t be ignored forever. Sometimes there are gems hiding in there. Sift through it. You have the option of hanging on to whatever you want, and the opportunity to throw out the stinky and poisonous stuff.
Here is a Black man in the blue system… do you see how they treated their “brother” in blue? He can belong to the blue system; he is still Black. He can belong to WHATEVER he wants to belong to. He can take off the uniform or the badge, but he cannot get out of his skin. If you think this story is an isolated incident, I invite you to take off whatever it is impeding your eyesight and sensibility.
Stop being afraid to look. Stop being afraid to acknowledge. It takes looking squarely at it, getting past your hurt feelings, your fear, your denial, to change this. The SYSTEM is racist. Stop with “not all cops” and “Oh, it’s just that one bad cop….” It doesn’t matter that you know one good one or post a video of that kind one. The SYSTEM is racist. Law enforcement is just one thread in the web of a racist SYSTEM. That is why it is called “systemic racism.” Our country was literally builton this and for this. Yes… FOR this. THIS is our FOUNDATION.This is its intent. It is working just as it was designed. This is not an accident.
If you built your house’s foundation or business on a pile of shit (now I have your attention), how long do you think it would last? How long before it became so offensive you just couldn’t take the stench anymore? How long would it take to just break down and finally fall into its own waste compost?
What if it was built on the backs of Black bodies? WELL, THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT WE HAVE DONE.
We have ignored the stench for too long. It is breaking down and the bones are showing. A truly free and whole society cannot continue to be held up on a foundation of brittle bones, stench, fear, hate, and violence. It’s crumbling. While it Is flailing and falling, it is sucking more bodies down with it, including you and me — Mr. and Ms. WhiteBody. Those that stand by watching or pretending not to see are letting it happen. You think you are free from it; you are not. You may not look at it or talk about it, but that doesn’t mean it is not there. The cracks are in the foundation; the infection is present. You are also enslaved to a system that doesn’t give two f**cks about your well-being, but it has you thinking it does. Whatever we let happen to another sentient being, and certainly our most marginalized, permeates our souls. It strips the skin off of our humanity, leaving us bare and vulnerable, and at the point of breaking down. Some of us don’t even realize we are being digested down into the sink-hole of humanity because we are so used to living in the dark, or because we would rather live in the dark than to do the necessary work of setting ALL LIVES free from the rotting corpse of this country’s foundation. We would rather go down with it than to do the work and the recognition to save us ALL.
You can continue to spray the air freshener, paint over it, decorate it with flowers and ribbons, plug your nose, close your eyes, prop it up, or rename it… but it is falling. The signs are all around us. You might want to pay attention to the road you are on.
This is a whole package filled with all kinds of racism – some blatant and obvious, and also insidious, stealthy, and meticulously planned. It has to be unpacked.
I appreciate the work of W. Kamau Bell. Recently he was a guest on Conan, and he was asked about “All Lives Matter”rhetoric and #BlackLivesMatter. The entire interview is really good, but if you want to jump to specifically that part, it is at 11:30. With that said, I urge you to watch the whole thing, especially if you have been trying to figure out your White or non-Black place in this ongoing movement. If not now, when?
There is something ANY ONE of us can do. Being silent ain’t it. If ALL of us aren’t free, NONE of us are free.
One last thing: It is up to the benefactors of this system to fix it, dismantle it, change it, cure it. It is not up to, nor can it be done by those that are inflicted by it. For a great example of what inaction looks like and the harm it causes, read “The Ones Who Walked Away from Omelas.”