Names

Summer is a convenient time for losing your mind just a little. Like just now, I decided to count all my t-shirts. I went by twos and covered my bedroom floor with little pairs of “t-shirt buddies!” (exclamation point necessary.) I felt they had to match each other, so that friendships could thrive. There were thirty-nine overall, which meant an odd man out, so I am wearing him to make him feel less lonely. (I think my brain is turning into tumblr, y’all. I can’t even.)

However, I have done some more constructive things today: I helped my little brother clean his room, got a pedicure, and finished applying for a job, but those are less fun to tell the internet about.

So, to return to fleeting eccentricities, the other day I wrote a fan letter of sorts. John Green (of Vlogbrothers fame) just had a daughter and named her Alice. To clear the air, I wrote her the following note. And sent it. With a stamp.

Dear little Alice,

Hello! You were born just the other day. I’ve written lots of letters before, but never to someone so small. I am a little more than twenty-one years older than you, and will probably never meet you. (We live hundreds of miles away.) However, we have something important in common. My name is Alice, too!

A few months ago, (this was before you) I watched a video, which I’m sure you’ve seen, of your parents having a chat with President Obama. You mom and dad asked the president if they should name you Eleanor or Alice. Eleanor was my Grammy’s name. She died about four years ago and I loved her very much. (Almost as much as she loved me.) Eleanor is also the middle name of my big sister, Mary, who is my best friend in the world. And Alice, of course is my name. I share it with a little girl in a blue dress with a big imagination.

Now I’ll tell you something that makes me a little ashamed. When I saw that video, I was very annoyed with your parents. I did not want to share either of those names with you, which was selfish of me. (Particularly because I know my Grammy would have been delighted to share her name with you.) I complained quite a lot.

But now you have been born and you are called Alice! So here I am, learning a valuable lesson about sharing, that I should have known since I was two. (Growing up doesn’t happen all at once—I’m beginning to suspect it takes all our lives. Probably till we’re eighty-five.)

Honey, regardless of how selfish and silly I am, I want you to be sure to wear our name well. It’s a lovely one and I know you can make it lovelier. I don’t usually like labels very much. In fact, though I like a lot of your dad and uncle’s videos, I’ve never even called myself a nerdfighter. I always figured my name, (our name,) was enough. It sounds pretty, it looks pretty, it’s easy to spell and say, and best of all, it means “noble.” So be noble, little Alice. Run with the young and walk slowly beside the old. Give as much as you can. Forgive fully and gracefully. When others talk, listen with your mouth shut. When you are angry, speak as slowly as you can. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Always say what you mean. Say ‘thank you’ when someone gives you a compliment (even if you don’t think it’s true.) Smile at strangers and say ‘hello.’ Also, remember that a handwritten poem is the best birthday present. (I’m sorry I fall short on that front this time.) Don’t forget. (I know you won’t.)

All my love,

another Alice

By the time I finished writing it, I was very much wishing I that it was addressed to little girl who did not already have half the internet fawning over her, in other words, a little girl who might actually read it someday. But then, patient advice like I tried to give above could still be good for another Alice I know—who apparently still has selfish little identity crises spurred by strangers’ unborn babies.

It’s funny really, that we wonder so much about who we are, that I feel the need to broadcast my giddy delight over forcing my clothing into intraspecies friendships, that I feel the need to tell myself to the world. Maybe I’m snobbily adverse to labels as a means of defining myself, but I still go in for stories, and clothes, and words, (and, um, a blog…)

My friend Hopkins wrote a poem called “As Kingfishers Catch Fire.” Here’s a bit:

“Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:

Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;

Selves – goes itself, myself it speaks and spells,

Crying What I do is me: for that I came.”

I love this poem, as I do most Hopkins, and yet these lines make me unsure. I am surrounded by young people like myself, who scrounge for whatever platform they can get hold up their me-ness where everyone else will see it. The internet is crammed with people nonchalantly begging for everyone else to affirm them. “Like it, will you? Like me, will you?”

Hopkins’ poem has a second stanza. (Good poets always do their best to answer the questions they pose, even when they pretend they have been open-ended.)

“I say more, the just man justices;

Keeps grace: that keeps all his goings graces;

Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is –

Christ – for Christ plays in ten thousand places,

Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his

To the Father through the features of men’s faces.”

So here we all sit, playing in mud, knowing in our gut that the self is important and interesting.  We run around and shove ourselves in everyone else’s faces asking, “Oh, is this as good as yours? Or maybe (Oh, please!) even a little better?” As usual, we have got it all wrong. We think that the self is meant to be worshipped, when really it simply is meant to worship. (Dastardly passive voice, y’all…) God intended the self to shout, to jump, to cry Abba Father, to join with all the various and sundry brother and sister selves in singing “O Lord, open my lips and my mouth shall show forth your praise!” (That’s from Psalm fifty-one. I don’t really need Hopkins as much as I pretend.)