What’s in a name? On the streets of Denver, I’m learning that it’s more than I realized. We meet a lot of people with ‘street names,’ or nicknames, like “St. Louis” or “Texas,” “Dr. Mo” or “Rabbit.” With some friends, it’s a big deal for them to reveal their real name to us.
Once in September, just as my team was leaving a park we visit frequently, we briefly met a disheveled woman who hesitantly introduced herself as “Baby Girl.” I didn’t see her in that park again until nearly a month later, when she was passing through on a bicycle. Recognizing one another, she stopped to say hello; the greeting was warm, and when I asked how she was doing, she replied, “it’s actually Rachel, and a lot better than last time.” A few weeks later, she passed us again on her bicycle, and I could greet her using her real name and she looked up from under her hood and smiled with a returned, “hello, Jayne!”
It’s always a little zinger to the heart when a friend on the street remembers my name, too. Walking home after that encounter with Rachel, it hit me that it’s the exchange of names that is so important. We missionaries learn that to love is to will the good of the other, manifested in giving of oneself. Jesus commands us that “no one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Loving others happens through both words and actions. It’s simple enough (and good!) to give material things to someone you meet on the street corner. However, there is a deeper gift to humbly offer our words to that individual. By taking that risk to give someone your own name and going beyond the material, you are backing up action with words that show you truly care for him or her. With that exchange of names and the fuller gift of self (your love), the door to friendship is opened.
Jayne Pasternak is a first-year missionary from New Jersey. A rock enthusiast after studying geology at school in Minnesota, one of her major contributions to CIC community life is a rock collection on the kitchen windowsill.