Friday, February 27, 2009

The Name Game

During the time between the rebellious 1960's and the "Greed is good" culture of the 1980's, the 1970's remained an odd enigma in history. The decade encompassed the "Free to be Me" element it gained from the previous 10 years, and was beginning to show the "It's all about Me" narcissim of the following decade. In junior highs in the late 70's in California, the girls took woodshop and the boys took home economics. (Because of this, my husband still sews better than I do...). It was a period of vast changes of perspective between the changes, brought about by the 60's, becoming permanent or going away. It was a time of growing pessimism about 'older people' knowing what's best for younger, and the older people learning to be comfortable with that concept in a way they weren't ten years before. It was a time of 'back to nature' meets 'all about the future'. Fashions had everything from Little House on the Prairie inspired granny dresses to the beginning of spandex.

When I was in middle school (then called Junior High) in southern California, in keeping with this spirit of change, there was a blizzard of name changes amongst girls my age. Many girls had grown up with traditional names, such as Katherine and Anne. These girls rebelled by changing their names to more exotic fare, such as Gypsy (inspired by Fleetwood Mac) and Sutton (predating the last-name-first trend to come). The girls whose hippie parents had lovingly bestowed upon them the types of names they wish they'd had themselves, such as Rainbow and Sunshine , rebelled against those very Bohemian tendencies, and annointed themselves more common fare, such as Allison and Tracy.

The counselors of the day advised parents to let these 12 to 14 year olds make these decisions...that they were important to their daughters' self-expression and self-esteem. The parents were certain they would do more harm than good by not allowing their daughters this critical decision in their own identity. Bohemian or Traditional, parents were cautioned that not allowing the change to occur could be detreminental to their daughters' well being. And, so, the Harmony's became Heather's, almost overnight.

Having been given a common name, so common I was always attaching my last initial when I signed my papers, I was somewhere in nowoman's land: my name neither marked me as hopelessly old fashioned, nor did it gain me notoriety in its difference and 'authenticity'. As usual, I felt in the middle. If I had thought of changing my name, it simply never progressed past the pondering stage, but it was fascinating to come to school, and almost every week, find an old friend refuse to answer to anything but her 'new' name. It confused me in the sense that one even could change her name. I wasn't particularly thrilled with mine, in 8th grade, but I certainly didn't invest enough in it to think up a new one. And, as fads like these go, the "Name Game" of the late 70's fizzled out.

It did surprise me, years later, when my own middle school age children expressed frustration at their 'boring' names. Neither one felt as if I had given any thought to what I'd named them. Obviously, this couldn't be further from the truth. But, I came to see that the act of rebelling against one's very name is simply a developmentally appropriate stage that many young teens go through. Since I am not a 1970's pop psychology mother, I told my children that they were absolutely welcome to change their names, legally, to Talon and Mimi...after their respective 18th birthdays. Like the typical mother of the New Millenium that I am, I gave them freedom to make that choice...just not right away. I wonder how many of the girls from my class would have changed their minds, had they simply waited until adulthood.

One's name is an extremely personal form of identity. People still change their names for a variety of reasons: a change in religion, marital status or belief system. Marshal McLuhan wrote, "The name of a man is a numbing blow from which he never recovers." Clearly, his perspective was one of antagnosim at the parental naming process. And yet, of course, William Shakespeare wrote, "What's in a name? That which we call a rose By any other name would smell as sweet." The great Bard and I are in agreement that we are who we are, regardless of whether our names are bland, bold, or somewhere in the middle.

As for me, I am content with the Japanese proverb, "Words have meaning and names have power, but only if we allow them to."

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Ash Wednesday

I happen to love Ash Wednesday. As an Episcopalian, the service I attend is one of penitence, humility, reverence, preparation and hope. The beauty of the Anglican language never ceases to amaze me with its elegant prose, uniting prayers and call to self-examination. By looking at the season of Lent, in even more than dateson a theological calender, we can open the pathways to greater understanding "for us and for all mankind". The altar is stripped of all outward expressions, with the exception of the barest essentials. For the next six weeks, we have the invitation to draw closer to God, as well to our own inner selves. It's an invitation I don't take lightly. I treasure this time to reflect, to examine my heart and to prepare myself to move forward inspirationally, intellectually and intentionally.

Because I did not grow up in a religious household, the true meaning of Lent has come into my life as a teen, and then as an adult. I used to admire and even envy the kids who came to school with ashes on their foreheads. I thought those ashes signified a club of which I was not a part, and never would be. The smugness that came with those ashes didn't help matters. And, of course, it made me *want* the ashes all the more. As I can to truly understand the significance of them, as a teen, I realized that the "holier than thou" attitude that came with some of the ashen as they walked into class late bearing a note, along with their forehead bearing excused badges, was completely counter to the meaning of Ash Wednesday: which is a time of sincere reflection, self-examination and true humility of 'our own faults'. The outward ashes should simply reflect the symbol of the work that's going on inside one's heart and spirit.

When I attended my first Yoga teacher training session, I was blessed to learn the following prayer:

From darkness to light;

From ignorance to knowledge;

From fear of death to the understanding of the soul's immortality.

How completely amazed I was to learn that this was not a Christian prayer, but rather an yogic one....and yet, how much it spoke to my heart about preparing for Lent, beginning at Ash Wednesday.

The quest for inner understanding, and the need to prepare ourselves to become 'that which we have the potential to be', is not unique to the Judeo-Christian traditions. Many of the Native American religions required a period of ,interestingly close to, 40 days in the wilderness to pray, fast and listen to the spirit. The Buddha wrote, "Life is but a journey. The passing years are but dust, and we shall all return to the dust." It's incredible to me that so many belief systems share such remarkably similar imagery.

Soo, it's my call to you, to light the candle of your spirit. For the next forty days, take time each day to reflect on the kind of person you are right now, and the kind of person you wish to be. Try not to judge yourself (or others, for that matter) but simply acknowledge where you are on the journey. By figuring out that you are on Start at the beginning of a quest for self-knowledge and discovery, you will already be well on your way to your destination: hopefully, a peaceful, enlightened, contented and kind soul, whichever path you may follow. It's not always easy to look inward so intently. It's even harder to truly perceive our own faults. But, because of this extraordinary time of year, in which days grow longer and brighter, we are given the gift of possibility and change.

I pray the next forty days are meaningful for you in innumerable and contemplative ways.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


We had an intense blizzard yesterday. What began as a slow and gradual accumulation of snow overnight turned into full blown (pun fully intended) white out conditions for 24 hours. While my 16 year old was thrilled with having a Snow Day (and therefore, postponing return to school, after February break, by another day), my husband and I were doing out best to keep life running smoothly, without power. We are fortunate: when my parents built this house, my visionary father had the foresight to install a generator. While the generator is a godsend (or in my case, a Dad-send), it only runs the bare essentials: heat, a few key lights and the fridge.

Although we were safe and our pantry could easily feed an Army of Huns for weeks, it was very easy to feel powerless, both literally and metaphorically. We had absolutely no control when power would be restored. We had no idea when cable and internet would come back. We found our landline phone service was sketchy at best, and there is no cell service at our house. We were, quite simply, at the mercy of Mother Nature, AT & T and Central Maine Power, not to mention, the Town of Camden's road service.

Considering the fact that I do tend to micromanage just about everything I can lay my hands on, I found myself getting very frustrated when I couldn't use my appliances, and had to light lanterns around the house. I felt powerless in the literal sense. I have such a habit of everything electronic working, I found myself walking into rooms, and switching on lights. It took me a few moments each time to grasp that *they didn't work*. The same thing happened with the stove. I tried to preheat the oven for 5 minutes before I realized that it didn't work. Thankfully, I have burners that are propane based, so I was able to light them (without burning myself) and cook up some tins of food. It wasn't a gourmet meal, but we made due. However, all I could think of was how much better dinner would have been with the oven working. Although Jeff and Joshua were perfectly content with hot dogs and beans, I felt enormous guilt that I couldn't whip up something magnificent, in a "MacGuyver meets Martha Stewart" sort of way. I felt impotent in my cooking abilities!

And yet, being powerless wasn't dreadful in the long run. Being unplugged meant I spent more time with the dogs outside, and laughing with family indoors. I was not surgically connected to the computer, the phone or chores requiring electricity. Freed from the responsibilities that come with power, I was able to ignore the floor that needed vacuuming, the laundry that needed washing and the emails I had to send. I was able to live completely in the moment, and to enjoy the blessing of a day 'off'...not just from work, but from outside distractions, as well. I was able to take the time to notice the unbelievable beauty of the Maine coast after a snow storm, and realize how truly blessed I was to live in a place that looks like children imagine Santa's home to be. I was able to devour visually the fluffy white snow against the sharp green of the evergreens, and the vivid blueness of the icicles.

While I have to admit that I was very happy when the power came back on 36 hours later, I must also say that I learned a great deal about appreciation of the peace and quiet. I just wish peace and quiet came with a Cafe au Lait.

I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don't notice it. ~ Alice Walker, "The Color Purple"