Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name: you are mine.

Isiah 43:1

In a break in the rain, we put our backpacks in the trunk and climbed into the taxi. Standing in the “golden plaza” under the spires of the Cathedral de Santiago de Compostela, we were set to leave the magic of this place. As the taxi was pulling out of the plaza, Sally cried, “There’s Sven!” The driver stopped and Sally rolled her window down, “Sven!” He looked over and a big smile came across his face as he walked over to the cab. We had met Sven and shared our journey with him for a brief time more than two weeks ago. We spoke with him briefly and sixty second later, we were gone.

One‘s name is a powerful word. That word identifies us and ties us to our existence in a way that is singular. In a world that is so quick to forget our names, the Camino de Santiago engaged us in a new form of remembering that reminded us of the importance of the word our parents assigned to us so many years ago. On the Way, almost everyone we met was was very, very good about remembering names.

When we called to Sven, we activated that powerful word that ties him to his life and the collection of traits and experiences forming his unique identity. We only knew him for a few moments but those few moments became intimate and familiar when we called him by name. We became part of that unique identity in some small way, another point along the broader way of his life. He responded with knowing joy, feeling the connection through his name, and intuiting the broader implication: We see you. We know you. Even if only in the smallest of ways.

I love writing about “showing up.” It is a rare and special thing to show up for others and often, for ourselves. When we call someone else by name, we are showing up for them and seeing them in their uniqueness. With that calling, we tell them, “I see you and recognize your special place in this vast universe.” Interestingly, that recognition may be even more profound the less we know them. In the smallest of moments, being called by name is often received in the biggest of ways.

As we traveled across Spain on our Camino, our limited understandIng of the language made names even more important. With those who took care of us in hostals and cafes, I had almost no ability to articulate nuance, however, when I asked for his or her name and used it, the gap was bridged in a way that my poor understanding of the language could never do. It always brought a smile, particularly since almost no one else ever asked. I see you. I recognize your humanity. I call you by name.

In the United States, our standard excuse is “I’m not good with names.” Almost all of us do it. It is a complete cop-out. We are good with names…when we think it matters. When we forget a name, we are saying that we did not put the time, energy, or focus into that moment of introduction to bother storing that piece of information in a place that matters. Want to test this? Today, look every new person you meet in the eye and imagine they want to buy your house or think of them as a potential employer or client as you ask them their name. Look at them as if your livelihood depends on your ability to name them at dinner that evening. Yes, you can be good with names when you think it matters.

I have called you by name. I see you. I know you. You are special. There is magic in our names.

This week, remember the power of a name, and use it.

  • Mom

    I try to do this daily at work, don’t always focus enough. Thank you for the reminder.

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