Archive | February, 2013

Say My Name, Say My Name

11 Feb

Perhaps even more gratifying than hearing someone say “I love you,” this Valentine’s Day is to hear him or her say your name.  Of course, both together is the ideal, but of the two, I would prefer the personal.  Let me stipulate.  Nothing is more disappointing, perhaps, than realizing that a so-called friend cannot recall your name.   Of course, we all have a momentary lapse of memory when we can’t recall our own names (or it that just me?), but to learn that you have not made enough of an impression on someone for him or her to bother to learn your name is disheartening.  I use that term deliberately:  the heart is out of it; or in more contemporary terms, they’re just not that into you.

What’s in a name?  More than Juliet realized it would seem.  We can conjure up childhood fairy tales of mysterious creatures like Rumpelstiltskin whose magic was diminished when his name was discovered or, more recently, thrill to the power of Michael Keaton’s announcement, “I’m Batman!”  More seriously, some names are so sacred and omnipotent, their subordinates are careful not to even vocalize them completely, as in the Jewish YHWH or G-d.  When we admonish children not to call one another names, we acknowledge the potency of such language:  “sticks and stones” are passé in a world cognizant of the damage words—names—can do.  It’s when the verbiage takes on the personal, the individual identity, that it becomes dangerous.

But I’m not interested in talking about bullying or political correctness in labeling or any of those other timely topics—that’s another blog, another day.  I want to dwell on the merits of speaking the name or names of those we claim to love, honor, and appreciate.  I recall the scene in the delightful Italian film Il Postino when the title character is asked to pontificate on his homeland’s renowned beauty; all he can articulate is “Beatrice”—the name of the woman with whom he is infatuated.  When someone is your everything, he or she becomes your complete vocabulary.  Or should.

Lately I have been bothered by the lack of interest it would seem in so many so-called Christians willing to speak out about their faith; namely, to identify the one in whom they “live and move and have their being” (Acts 17:28).  Afraid of being labeled fanatic or being persecuted on some level for their “archaic” beliefs, many would prefer to remain silent, justifying their reticence in a Victorian-aged whisper, “It’s too personal to speak about openly.”  More likely they are reluctant to be ridiculed, lest their intellectual quotient appear retarded (in the proper sense of the word).  As if just saying “Jesus” will land them in the bogs of the Bible Belt among Neanderthals with embarrassing redneck accents.  Maybe they haven’t read I Cor. 3:19 lately.

Last week my Poetry class was studying one of my favorite writers, Gerard Manley Hopkins, the 19th century Jesuit monk-turned-poet. He ponders, in his poignant poem, “A Lantern Out of Doors,” who among all humanity truly notices anyone else.   His recognition of the one—perhaps the only one—who cares is emphatically and unapologetically stated:   Christ.  “Christ minds,” he writes.  “Christ’s interest, what to avow or amend There, éyes them, heart wánts, care haúnts, foot fóllows kínd, Their ránsom, théir rescue, ánd first, fást, last friénd.”  Having just read the entire poem aloud, I asked the class to name the one Hopkins identifies, but even staring at the clearly printed text, not one of the twenty or so students could bring him or herself to say the word out loud.  And this in a private Christian institution where to speak the name of the Savior should be part of the short-listed lexicon!  I’m afraid I launched into a tirade.

It reminded me of a time when I was in college—another private Christian institution, for what it’s worth—and our choir was on tour; on this particular occasion, we were at a nursing home.  Well-rehearsed in our classical repertoire, we were proud to perform each vocally impressive piece.  But in the midst of such production, I noticed one little old man sitting in a wheelchair at the end of the first row.  Plucking the sleeve of the nurse’s aide sitting next to him, he plaintively pleaded, “I want them to sing ‘What a Friend We Have in Jesus.’ Why won’t they sing ‘What a Friend We Have in Jesus’?”  Finally, between numbers, I got the attention of our choir director and quietly requested, “Why don’t we sing ‘What a Friend We Have in Jesus’?”  Agreeable, if not impressed by the musicality of the piece, she willingly led us in the old hymn.  As I watched the old man light up and sing out with gusto, tears ran down my face.  Why can’t we sing—speak, whisper, write—about what a friend we have in Jesus?  If we really do.

Mark 8:38 puts it plainlyIf anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes with the holy angels in his Father’s glory.”

Jesus.  Jesus Christ.  I’m just saying.


Guest Speaker

7 Feb

Conversation Overheard

All I want is to be left alone, she said.

I knew the feeling, so I listened, silent.

I don’t want anyone telling me what to do.  Ever.  If I want their opinion, I will ask for it.  Not before.

What would she like to do, I wondered.  What would she do if no one told her?

If it were up to me, she said, as if she heard me, I would spend my time reading whatever I wanted.

I could relate…

And then I would spend the rest of my time writing, anything I liked.  And I would decide who read it and who didn’t.  It would be my choice.

And I would sleep whenever I pleased.  Or not.  And no one would judge me for time spent in or out of bed.  It is not their business.

No, it was no one else’s business…

And I would go wherever I pleased and stay as long as I liked.  Schedules wouldn’t dictate—or costs.

Ah!  A fantasy…

And only those I wanted to see would appear and no one else.  Not even on Facebook.  And I would never answer my phone.  She was becoming adamant.

No one would pass laws or lay down rules I didn’t like.  They would not apply to me.  I would not be accountable.  And passionate.

She was just warming up—clothes, food, ideologies–so I let her rant.  And thought about what she’d said.  After a moment:

“But, isn’t this how you live already?” I had the temerity to ask.

Who asked you, she said.  And gave me that look.  It’s none of your business.

It wasn’t.  She was right.  I was still letting someone else tell me what to do.



Eucalyptus: Memory and Desire

4 Feb

ImageI love the smell of eucalyptus in the morning.  And in the evening, too.  I love it all the time, which is why I had to buy some and place it in different rooms so I could have the benefit of it no matter where I was in my house.  I breathe deep its clean but peppery perfume.  Eucalyptus always reminds me of two things, well, three things, really.  One, my visit to the San Diego Zoo where I saw the baby pandas several years ago.  Apparently pandas chew on eucalyptus.  Or is that koalas?  Now I can’t remember.  I remember I saw pandas, not koalas in San Diego, but now that I ponder it, I think they were eating bamboo.  Maybe it’s just koalas who like to chew on eucalyptus.  I don’t recall if I have ever seen koalas up close and personal.  Oh, well.  I guess I could Google it, but I’d rather move on to the second thing it reminds me of:  those huge trees along the rocky road to Ron and Mark’s house for choir practice when I was living on the Big Island.  I had never seen such colorful bark and wouldn’t have believed it was true if I hadn’t seen it in person.  Rainbows.  That’s what it looked like, and since rainbows are plentiful in Hawaii (in more ways than one), I guess it was appropriate.  In fact, I think they were called Rainbow Eucalyptus trees—or at least they should have been.  

The third thing, which is actually the first in my memory, is when I was a bridesmaid for my college roommate, and her brother made the most beautiful and aromatic floral arrangements for each of her bridesmaids to carry in these sweet little baskets.  The eucalyptus filled in between the mauve silk tiger lilies, and the matching mauve ribbon cascaded from the twisted wicker handle.  Mauve was big back then.  I kept my flower basket for years, letting it scent my house, until it came irreparably apart from too many relocations.  This is the first time I think I’ve had eucalyptus back in my house since then, and its aroma is as sweet and spicy as ever.  It’s the first time I’ve thought about my roomie’s brother, too, in a long, long time.  The last I heard he had made the floral arrangements for Truman Capote’s big shindig in New York where Tennessee Williams, a frequent guest, admired the flowers and the brother so much he invited him—with or without flowers—to go to Europe with him.  I remember how jealous I was!  Tennessee Williams!  I was the big American drama major!  The brother was just a, a flower designer!   I should get to go to Europe with the famous playwright!  I wanted to go!  “No, you don’t,” I remember my father admonishing me—rather uncharacteristically, I might add.  “Not with that old reprobate,” he said.  Reprobate?  What was that?  Apparently it was a term he might have used to describe the brother, too, if he had known—if any of us had known back then.  I wasn’t aware of any of that at the time—and not until long after all of them were dead—young, old, brothers and reprobates alike.  AIDS, no respecter of persons, so it would seem.  That might explain why my roommate’s brother had never been interested in dating any of her friends, though we had mooned about over his dreamy good looks, hinting at the possibilities whenever he came around.

Now I think of Blanche DeBois in Streetcar Named Desire:  “He was a boy, just a boy, when I was a very young girl.  … There was something different about the boy, a nervousness, a softness and tenderness which wasn’t like a man’s, although he wasn’t the least bit effeminate looking — still — that thing was there … “ 

That thing.  It’s mixed up in the scent of eucalyptus.   I breathe it in as I pass from room to room.  Memory and desire.