When I turned 55 last August and chose the word slow to anchor my year, I also christened the milestone with two others.
I declared this season as midlife crafting to propel myself away from a supposed crisis. Whether I was intentional or not, this past year has circled around my identity.
Crafting involves taking a little bit of this and that. If done properly, I hope my life in progress will definitely look homemade and not mass-produced. Identities are meant to be unique.
Pinning down an identity can resemble a magician’s sleight of the hand, complete with smoke and mirrors. We are meant to grow and change, not possessing the same identity at twelve as forty. And yet, there are some defining parts of our identity that will always remain, our core.
I have been looking backward to who I inhabited in the past, making a truce with the less desirable bits and honoring pieces overlooked which make me who I am today.
If I hadn’t slowed down this past year, I may have missed two signposts leading me to recover a piece of my identity.
My mother discovered an envelope of my Girl Scout badges which she arranged in a shadow box along with my scout pin and sent as a gift. I love this square box, placed it to see most days but the even more precious part of this gift is the envelope affixed to the back. Inside is a short note from my troop leader. One sentence stands out,
“Helen, you have been a good scribe this year.”
Evidently, I had been my troop’s secretary. As I thought about this role, I recalled several other times I had assumed the position of secretary or recorder. It seemed my place in the world was often to write down the contents of meetings.
I was a scribe.
Perhaps I wrote down the words of others until I was ready to write my own.
Perhaps I was content to listen to the words of others instead of speaking my own.
Now I am a writer.
Now I have a voice.
A few months later, Carl was clearing away clutter and came across a program from my physical therapy school graduation. I glanced at the folded paper and without thought, scanned the list of names, reminding myself of each classmate. I also looked at who our class speakers were and nodded thinking, “Yes, of course.” I set the program aside but not out of reach.
In March, when the world began to close its doors and I attempted to write words of hope and encouragement along an unknown path, I began to close each post with a benediction, it seemed right.
Allow me to return to my 32-year-old parchment paper program. It laid cast aside for several weeks without regard, until one day, the synapses in my brain fired and connected at the right moment and inside me was a gentle, pleading voice saying,
“Wait a minute.”
I picked up the program, scanned to the bottom of the page, and saw my name on one side of the paper, directly across from the word, benediction.
Picking up the program from all those years ago, my first inclination was centered on the class as a whole and a couple of names that seemed to bear more weight than my own.
How had I forgotten this fact, this honor?
I was chosen to speak words ending a ceremony and our time as students. I wrote a prayer ushering in a new identity to 32 other people before we filed out toward the embraces of our loved ones, ready to forge our paths in the world.
For decades, I had forgotten.
One day by looking behind, I was reminded.
I recovered a piece of my identity.
My eyes frequently look to the crowd or someone else, missing the space designed for me. I fell asleep to myself and missed my own name.
I write benedictions.
What if you haven’t forgotten?
What if the names you rehearse are those you no longer desire?
Sometimes names are repeatedly spoken over us by ourselves or others. It could be time to release the names we no longer wish to wear or trap us by familiarity. Start reaching for life-giving words.
Several years ago, my son asked me to stop calling him by a nickname created by our family. My children have handfuls of nicknames but he was the first to ask for one to cease usage, if not entirely, at least in front of his friends. We hadn’t intended to use it outside of our family but sometimes a name becomes reflexive. I liked the nickname and a part of me wanted to hold on. But my thoughts and affection for this term of endearment weren’t important, for my son, this name didn’t measure up to the identity he was building. I stopped using it.
If a name you are called evokes a visceral response, this is a signpost revealing a desire to no longer answer to this name.
What name no longer fits?
May we use this time to reflect on what names we want to honor and cherish and the ones which need to fall to the ground rendering them powerless.
What would it be like if we all emerged from this time of crisis and stepped outside our doors fully as the people were always designed to be?
What a wonderful world to behold!
Have you forgotten who you are?
Are you only remembering names that are untrue?
What signposts have you ignored?
May we regain our sight to rediscover who we truly are.
May we uncover signposts everywhere.
May we take our eyes off the crowded path and not miss the one bearing our name.
May we have the confidence to express the need for certain names to be extinguished.
- the invocation of a blessing
- the short blessing with which public worship is concluded
- something that promotes goodness or well-being and,
an expression of good wishes