Opinion & Analysis
What's in a name8:24 PM, August 25, 2019
Philippines:A person's name is the expression of their parents' hopes and dreams that they have for their child.
A young girl attends Palm Sunday rituals in Manila in this file photo. (Photo by Basilio Sepe)
It is an undeniable though trivial fact of human existence that no one is fully responsible nor can be held fully responsible for one’s name.
It is an interesting existential realization that hardly anyone has complete control over what is given to us at our birth: my body, my mind, its strengths and deficiencies, its capacities and limits, the demeanor and dispositions of the breath of life in my corporeal constitution that we often call a "soul," the strange and inexplicable make-up of my emotions, my peculiar ways of thinking, and all other idiosyncratic abilities I need to engage with the world.
All these unique particularities of "me" wrapped in three kilograms of flesh, in an infantile heart that has barely begun to beat moments after leaving my mother’s womb, and in an enigmatic name that had no sense to me except to the two people who bore the life I never chose to have.
We are the products of a creation process bounded by the finiteness of the nature in which we are born, of a process that we cannot call to account, of a process we do not hold. Life simply happens and we become us.
"Who we are" is who we are, and when we do eventually develop the faculties to exert better and a more expansive control of what we have been created to be, we can only build upon this foundation of the inheritances of our birth-event.
I am and can never be fully the "Jess" that I wish I could be; only a part of me can become what I desire, while the rest of me — including my name — can only be what I make of it.
Sharing with Heidegger this tryst with personal phenomenology, I cannot help but even cite that in our over-emphasis on the conscious "original sin" of Adam and Eve, we have fatally forgotten our unconscious "original flaws." What we are and what we can do will always be a summation of what we can give and what has been given.
But does that negate my "full responsibility" for who I am, for my successes and failures, and for who I can become? Are our "original flaws" actually "original graces?"
If I were so unfortunate as to have a funny name, what else can I do about it except to show others that I can still be taken seriously? If I were so unlucky as to have been given poor cognitive abilities, what else can I do except to prove that behind a slow brain, within lies a careful and considerate heart? If I were born so "ordinary" as to have an unattractive body, a dull physique, nonchalant emotions bordering on boredom, or strange habits that can alienate, what else can I do except to try to be the best person that I am? The world seems to expect perfection, even if it is itself not perfect, so what else can I do but to be what it wants me to be?
And herein lies the danger when I forget who I truly am.
What is just as undeniable is the other fundamental reality that my name is the expression of an aspiration made a long time ago, the voice of my parents traveling through time, telling the others of unknown generations, of the hopes and dreams that they have for me as a child.
What is also undeniable — and perhaps our greatest blessing — is that this imperfect self is the fruit of a love committed, an indissoluble union of two persons who may have transcended the world and saw each other for what they truly are.
I may not be or have everything that may ever be desired, but I am a life — a thinking and feeling life — a child borne from love and truth. Beneath my social facade, is who I really am.
What is most surprising and perplexingly ironic to me, is that the person that I have become — my birth-self, over which I had utterly no control — maybe my most genuine self. It is an unadulterated, pure self, a being that I have not chosen to become, a being that even my parents did not have the fullest of powers to select, a being they can only hope for would be the best.
Who then decided my genuineness at the birth-event? Whose aspirations clearly ensured that I would become who I truly am? Is it the Spirit who created me?
I did not choose my name, but my name is an immutable yearning, and even an eternal reminder of my parents to me of who they think and believe is my genuine self. If I change my name, for most of us, it becomes a sacrilege to their memory. I do have the free will to change it though if in my occasional insecurities I think I am in need of a "truer" self; but as for me, I dare not change what true human love has created — my name is precisely its own articulation.
I did not choose me, but I am the immutable yearning of God; for why should I exist, if he does not will it? My birth-self is my true self, and it is the self that God wishes for me to have and to consequently shape; even if that birth-self has a short stature, a poor memory, an angry nature or all those unlikeable attributes that would not fit into our "beauty" categories. It is a birth-self that has a mission, that has a purpose for its imperfections. The Spirit may allow me to improve on what he made me to be, but to change me is to bear equal sacrilege and to insult he who gave the divine love that my creation may be consummated.
What’s in a name? My name is my parents’ dream, waiting to come true.
Who am I really? I am our loving Father’s dream come true.
Brother Jess is a professed brother of the Secular Franciscan Order. He serves as minister of the St. Pio of Pietrelcina Fraternity at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Mandaluyong City, coordinator of the Padre Pio Prayer Groups of the Capuchins in the Philippines, and prison counselor and catechist for the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of ucanews.com
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