Thursday, May 31, 2012
Home on the Range is 4 years old. Just a bit shy of 7 million readers, it's certainly been a journey. It started with a recipe for scones and just went from there. I have a lot of posts which were read by many, and some that were read by few. Sometimes the thoughts I like best probably won't be widely read. Perhaps a post like this. Yet, it's been a wonderful journey in which I've made many new friends, and some that have become my family. Wherever I go, I run into bloggers and with a "Brigid!" I'm enfolded in a group of people I am honored to know. Even if I only know them by a simple blog name.
Sometimes just a name is enough.
The Old Norse had a word - "landnam": land naming. It meant claiming the land so named. I suspect that this concept is behind the naming of well beloved firearms, or before them, swords. I'm half Norse so I do as well ,on occassion, only naming one firearm, Vera. I did come close to having one for my Ruger Mark III the first time I took it apart to clean it but that one can't be repeated. But I have named other inanimate things "Otis" my old Piper Cub (named after the drunk on Mayberry RFD). "Fenry" a Honda scooter I used to have and Mr. Stubbs (do NOT ask). The small boat I owned before I moved to this state was Irish Wake. So I guess, I am one of those folks that do name things.
For people who know and appreciate firearms, just the name makes a statement. The nearest city to where I live had a museum that had a firearm exhibit. Their billboard along the highway said "Colt Fan?" Most would think of a certain local football team, but the rest of us immediately went. "aha" as we knew they were speaking of the legendary Colt. There are other names, those of the firearm, those of the men and women that mastered them, that are scribed on history.
The sciences were my subjects in school, and walking through an excavation, through a field, I can name things: trees, plants, animals. Acer diabolicum, canas lantrans, Mephitis mephitis (run guys run!), chrysomya rufifacies. Latin (quite often a mixture of Latin and Greek) was the language used by educated people and by the church in older times, so Latin was used to give scientific names to animals and plants. The names though weren't just given randomly. They meant something.
The knights of yore, oft were known by just one name. In all their deeds, honor renounced with honor, courage renounced with courage, they rode with the name that was worn with fealty. Bravery was something that was not shown for the deed, but for the sake of the doing, putting their name to the ultimate test even if it meant only proving that death is but final and some battles are all but vanity. Just a name can take us back to furious shadow, where sometimes all that is left of the battle is threads of metal twisted into living bark, annealing into that which it drove head on into, a path swift and narrow as glory itself, until glory is gone, and the wood only weeps.
I'm currently reading Undaunted Courage, a story about the Lewis and Clark expedition. Lewis and Clark did more than chart, they named. Their party named everything they ran across that didn't already have one, spots of land, trees, like the lodge pole pine, Piinus contorta, trees twisted and stunted by Pacific coast storms. They named birds, the Lewis woodpecker, the Clark's nutcracker. They named the waters they traveled down. They named camping sites after game taken there or the birthday of someone born the day they encountered it for the first time.
Simple acts, simple words for things that have a breadth of meaning felt deep inside. What did they think when they saw the mighty Pacific ocean for the first time, that large expanse of water that existed only in their eyes, as a giant wave broke with thunderous fury at their feet. As the waters receded, they too gave that a name, that moment that broke in an instant, vanishing at the at the end of a long journey yet not gone, for the word would hold on to the moment as long as there are those to listen to its sound.
In some religions it is believed that people can not be granted eternal life until they have been baptized, until they have been given a name. In the Bible all things are drawn out by name. In Genesis it says that "God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas". To exist is to have a name.
Yet we do not know God's name. In all the world's religions that I have read of, there is no revelation or rationalization of God as clear and powerful to me as the Name that He spoke to Moses. "I AM WHO I AM". Also written of as Yhwh. I believe "Yhwh" was "Yahweh" ( minus the vowels), likely a Greek transliteration, a name considered so holy that it was rarely spoken out of fear of misuse. Yhwh, four ancient letters, a word without vowels, a name that does not name. The power to name is the power to create, and the power to create is the power to destroy.
People have birth names and nicknames. Brigid was the name on my adoption papers, and retained, but not as my first name. I have the name I use in work. I have a title. The doc title is not just a nickname but I'm a Ph.D. not a medical doctor, for whom I have the highest respect for what they do to earn that title. It's a title I only use when I have to, but in the courtroom testifying about evidence, it wields some power. I have the name that only my brother can get away calling me. They are all part of me, they all in their forms, describe me. As little girls we give our dolls names to bring them to life. My favorite childhood doll is still in my room at home, where I see her from my bed at night when I'm visiting, sitting quietly below twisting stars, an oblivious playmate, now silenced by adulthood.
I remember the night Brigid Jr, was born, after 34 hours in labor, her head crowning, her body bursting forth onto the sweat and blood soaked sheet. I remember only getting to hold her once, for just a moment before I handed her over to her adoptive parents, incredulous of her her soft hair, perfect fingers., smelling of the womb, of warmth, of love. She looked at me with a peripheral glance, while I uttered the name I would give her and the words I was not able to say again for years, for in fear of their utterance, the object of my words would be lost to me. I love you.
As adults we name our pets to make them members of the family. God called life from the fluid chaos of creation by calling its name. We call home our own loved ones with a name, yelled across the back porch into seeping twilight. Time to come in, time to come home.
There are names within cultures that with one telling word have deep significance. The Inuit Indians use ilara, to bring to perceivable life, the utmost respect and fear they feel when they see a polar bear crossing the ice towards them. They also have the single word Inukshuk -in the image of man, which has meanings that pull together all the forces of their world, the sky, the snow, their creator.
There are some living things that define classification, and thus defy being named."Protists", groups of living things comprising those eukaryotes which are neither animal, plant or fungi. Protists - the scientists way of saying "none of the above". One of them is algae. Bones are affected under the earth by algae, fungi and bacteria. The traces of damage due to fungi or algae appear in thin ground sections as horizontal or vertical channels which sometimes converge on one another to form large flat or tufted like forms, causing the entire bone to disintegrate. In some rare cases, destroying all we might have left to identify someone by name.Sometimes all that is left to be buried is a few teeth, a piece of bone. But it is at least something to be placed in the ground with a name. Something for remembrance, for closure. On my long drive into the city I see the occasional cross by the road, with simply a name and perhaps a few flowers. How important these undistinguished little memorials. Every death is a memory that ends here, yet continues on. Enduring, for there is not one of us who can affirm that there must be a web of muscle and bone to hold the conformation of love. It's there, in dust and sky and new life. It''s there in the shadow of a half moon, quivering in the sky like a heel print in wet sand, a large piece of rock that man has named but few would walk. It's there deep within us, waiting.
So what is in a name? It is memory, something that is not simply particular, it is also tutelary, foretelling. It is, in the end, as reliable as we are, as strong as our word. The names and facts of my life by themselves are insignificant. But what our names represent is history, a life. When I look at the name of someone I loved on a gravestone, I do not see stone, I do not see letters. I see remembrance, and that is what we live on for. A simple name brings back memories, as a plunge underwater in a swift stream, as an airplane baffled and bounced in a fierce Spring wind as we labored to get home, as a Southwest night pouring into our heads every star, as smells of kitchens and gunpowder and black earth and lilacs and coffee and warm need, as a hatred of loss, as a discarding of painful past, as stillness and persistence going forward alone. I trace the outline of a name, and I know how that name made me feel. And that is not insignificant. I hear my name across hundreds of electronic miles of science, breathed into a phone late at night, and I know the warm rush that comes with that one word.
For earth without form is void, but heaven without names is only blackness