I got called on the carpet today.
It was a minor calling, mind you, directed not necessarily toward me but toward an entire group of people. It was about my neighborhood.
And it was about people in a neighborhood remembering one another’s names.
And it was about the fact that even though I’ve met this woman and her dog before, and even though the boys and I left Christmas cookies on her front porch (that the squirrels got to first), and even though we’ve waved and shouted hellos numerous times before, I forgot her name.
“Does the neighborhood ever do National Night Out?” I asked her, curious as to the neighborhood’s gathering of and with each other, now that the sun’s starting to come out.
“We tried it for a couple of years,” she responded, “but it didn’t last. It was the only day we saw one another all year long, and no one remembered one another’s names. You just keep introducing yourself, year after year. But it made me think, am I really that forgettable? Are we really all that forgettable?”
I looked at her and nodded my head. I couldn’t smile in the moment. I couldn’t ask for forgiveness, for the fact that I’d had to ask her her name again less than five minutes earlier, when she’d been shouting our names the whole time.
And, I know: there’s grace. There’s grace, when you move and you feel like you’re living in a fog, and it takes you a while to get out of your own head. There’s grace, when you’re doing the best you can, but the best you can is muddled by messiness and pain and frustration, too. There’s grace, when we forget, and we haven’t put something to memory, and we have to ask something as simple as a name, all over again.
But my neighbor was right: none of us want to be forgettable.
When I was in the eighth grade, I sat under a man whose simple words I’ll never forget:
“The name is the most important thing to a person,” Mr. Sanchez told a small group of us at a Peer Helpers training. We nodded our heads in understanding: yes, names matter. Yes, remembering names matters, because when we commit to memory the most important part of a person, we honor their entire personhood.
So, I vowed to honor the most important part of a person. I vowed to remember their name.
Years ago, much of my lunch hour was spent on high school and middle school campuses as a Young Life leader. Our entire goal was to show up where kids already were: at school. I high-fived students I already knew. I smiled at those I’d just met the week before. And always, whenever the lunch hour was over and I’d arrived back at my Jetta, out came my little notebook.
One by one, I wrote down the names of students I’d just met. “Blue hair,” I’d write next to one. “Loves Metallica,” I’d write next to another. Then, I’d study the names in that notebook, before I drove away, before I arrived the next time, whenever I had a free minute to spare.
I was diligent in my responsibility, perhaps because I thought it my job as a Professional Christian to remember names.
But I don’t work so hard at remembering names anymore.
I talk about it. I occasionally write down a name in a memo on my phone, or scrawled on a page in my writing journal. Their face, I remember. But their name? Forget it.
Then I blame it on mama brain, post-pregnancy brain, I-was-up-in-the-middle-of-the-night-with-back-pain brain, my children are cray-cray brain. But blame all I want, the onus is on me.
A couple weeks ago, the HBH (Hot Black Husband) and I went to see a screening of the short film, Godspeed: The Pace of Being Known. Our friend Danny directed it, so we mostly went to cheer him on in his endeavors. Little did we know that we’d be cheered on toward a different way of living and being by the end of the night.
Throughout the film, author, theologian and pastor Eugene Peterson shares his thoughts. At one point, he makes the poignant observation that it’s really, really easy for a pastor to ask about a person’s soul. But it’s much harder for them to call them by name, for them to remember their name.
“Nobody’s going to figure out somebody’s name. You gotta pay attention to that,” he says in the film.
So, I don’t know about you, but I’m going to start paying attention. I’m going to write down the names of my neighbors, just like I did in the little notebook years ago. I’m going to step into the act of remembering, even if it’s a muscle I haven’t exercised in awhile.
I’m going to try my hand at remembering the one little thing that matters the most.
Because the name, after all, is the most important thing to a person.
So, what do you think? Is YOUR name the most important thing to you? PS: This is a shameless plug for Godspeed, but you can watch it for free from the comfort of your living room. Grab a couple of people and enter into the conversation with them!