Sunday, July 3, 2016

What's in a name?

On June 12, I told this story on a new podcast called One New Message. One New Message is inspired by those calls that we have all made because we had something really important to say to someone, but for some reason, we couldn't say it. It's a great show, and you should definitely check it out. Especially episode 105, which you can find by clicking here.

If you are more inclined to read than to listen, here you go...

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It seems weird leaving you this message... I mean, we've never even met.

How could we have. You passed away 28 days before I was born.

Did you know that your son, my father, was planning to name me Dawn? I'm sure you did. Dad was always so close to you. How is it even possible that he wouldn't have shared absolutely everything with you, his mother, about his soon-to-be first born child. All his fears. All his hopes and dreams. And all the various names they went through before they settled on Dawn if I was a girl, and I'm honestly not even sure what if I was a boy.

But then you passed away in early November, 1976, after a long battle with cancer, before you had the chance to meet, or hold, your fifth grandchild. And when you passed away, an incredible sadness must have descended upon my father, who loved you so very much. How difficult it must have been for him to think about the happiness that a baby would bring to his life when he had to deal with the crushing sadness of losing you, his mother and closest confidant.

He tells me that he prayed very hard that I, sex unknown, would be a girl. So that he could give me your name. So that your soul that had just departed this earth could somehow breathe life into my own soul just as it was about to enter. So that he would have a daily reminder of you each and every time that he called out to me.

And so my name is not Dawn. It is Jeannine. It is your name.

I have to tell you that I hated my name growing up. No one can pronounce it. How could you even stand always being called Janine? Like the nerdy, shrill-voiced secretary on Ghostbusters? Which of course, you never saw. But still, you must know the irritation that comes with constantly having to correct the pronunciation and the spelling of your own name.

And then there was the fact that it was an old-person's name. At least I thought it was when I was a tween trying to find myself, wondering why I didn't have a young, hip name like Lianne, which was so de rigeur at the time.

But mostly, it was the pressure of having your name. Of hearing all the stories about your kind heart and your never-ending generosity. How you constantly sacrificed for your family. How you guided all eight of your children to know right from wrong, to become good, strong people like you. Aunts, uncles, my grandfather, Dad - they all told me how lucky I was to have your name, and what big shoes I had to fill. Shoes I never asked for or wanted. Shoes I wasn't sure could ever possibly fit me, since you were such a giant in everyone's minds and hearts.

And so I hated my name. And secretly wished that I was someone else.

Until sometime around my 12th or 13th year.

I had long since given up saying the nightly prayers that my parents made us recite before bed. But on this night, as I was feeling a particularly deep pang of teenage angst, I knelt alongside my bed, bowed my head, and recited a prayer. Not to God, but to my guardian angel, a prayer taught to me by my Mom when I was just a little girl: "Angel of God, my guardian dear. To whom God's love entrusts me here. Ever this day, be at my side, to light and guard, to rule and guide."

And it struck me that I did not have some randomly-chosen-by-God angel fluttering around heaven on wings charged by God to take care of me and watch over me.

No. I had you.

And so began our life-long relationship. From that moment on, when there was no one here on earth who would understand what I was feeling or what I was going through, I had you. When Dad and I fought, and I howled at him that he did not understand me, I had you. When I was excited about a special event in my life or a success that I had, I had you. When I made mistakes, when I cried, when I laughed, when I celebrated, I had you. I talked to you about it all. You saw it all from wherever it is that you are. And I felt you beside me at every step.

So no. We've never met. But you are one of the most important people in my life. And my name is one of the greatest gifts ever given to me. Through it, you and I share something that has allowed us to cement a spiritual bond, although it was impossible to form a physical one. You have helped me through my darkest times. I have felt you smile upon me through my greatest achievements. Dawn may be a perfectly lovely name. After all, it was given to my younger sister. But were it mine, it would not have brought me close to you. I would not feel your love and guidance ever present in my life. And I would not be who I am today.

So I guess I just really wanted to say... I love you.