Thursday, July 27, 2006

what's in a name

It's been just over a year now that my son was jailed for killing his best friend in a haze of drunken stupidity. I believe my most potent fear was having my son go from "a person of interest" in the paper to seeing his name (and ours) in print. He made the front page of two papers and the tv news. I remember taking my morning walk the day the story broke and reading our family name in blaring black and white for the whole world to see, encased in newpaper dispensers, sitting in grocery stores and lying on front porches all over town. I couldn't buy all the papers in the county, so our name was suddenly something that, to be honest, I was embarrassed and afraid to speak or write for a time. I went to the beauty parlor that day and had to sign my name to be called. I purposely wrote only my first name and not the last, thinking the entire world must know who we are by now, a family that produced a murderer. Every article seemed like a machine gun volley into our world, making us want to put up our hands and hide from public view. The bullet spray of words soon silenced except for the occasional cannon shot, but because of computers archives and television, were not forgotten.

Just how important a good name can be came back to me in the form of an invitation to participate an art show, and not just any show. This show singled the fortunate participants out as students of a teacher whose name is, by now, known world-wide. This man, still in his thirties, has a name so coveted that patrons wait to own his work. He cannot fulfill the demand for paintings with his signature on them. The value of that signature is now in the tens of thousands and shows no sign of losing value. It was this man who sent me an invitation to be attached to his famous name, as I was one of his first atelier students. I went to visit my teacher to be sure he was serious, wanting me to take part. At first it did not occur to me that my name even really meant anything at all by now. But as I walked into his beautiful studio area, I noticed large framed newclippings and postcard of old shows on the walls. And there I was, and my work, staring back at me from inside one of those frames. It was like being knighted or confirmed to see myself so honored by this exceptionally talented man. Part of me wished he would take the clippings off the wall. I had forgotten how much, at one time, I wanted a name like he had. And now, in a gesture that meant even more to me, I was being included as an equal with this man, gladly remembered and embraced as one of his own.

There is an even greater honor open to the children of men on this earth. Things may happen to sully or even destroy our earthly names, even things not our fault. Some children are born without one. Some people shamed by previous generations simply through association with a family name. But we when we bear the name of God, nothing can soil that bloodline, because the One who bestows a name on us cannot ever lose His greatness. It is said in the scriptures that in heaven we will receive a new name written on a white stone that only we know. I think of that when I remember the sting of verbal stones, and the sweetness of loving recognition carved in one. (Thanks, Tony)


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