In Act II, Scene II of Shakespeare’s love/hate classic Romeo and Juliet, after finding out that the man she’s fallen in love with is the only son of her family’s sworn enemy, Juliet insists
'Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What's Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What's in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call'd,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,
And for that name which is no part of thee
Take all myself.
In an earlier post I wrote about the importance of the given names we carry and how researching my family history helped ground me after my 2015 move (you can read about that here). I mentioned then that I didn’t subscribe to Juliet’s theory that “…a rose by any other name would smell as sweet…” It makes for compelling dialogue, and it may “smell as sweet”, but merely slapping a different name on something doesn’t change it fundamentally. You can call it a hibiscus until the cows come home, but it will still, at its core, be a rose.
This goes far beyond first and last names. What and how we name the rest of things in our lives – or don’t – also has a drastic effect on our existence and our relationships.
I was totally unprepared for “widowing” when I became one; I did the best I could, but not every coping mechanism I tried worked. As I shared on my Instagram feed on Monday, stuffing the emotions didn’t help, withdrawing didn’t help, “keeping busy” didn’t help, nor did trying to suck it up and go it alone. What has brought some measure of healing, given me glimpses of Resurrection, and offered me hope was naming and honestly facing what I was thinking and feeling and sharing it (as appropriate) in my writing: calling what I saw by its real name, putting it out there, and dealing with it.
We human creatures label (often inaccurately); (more about that here). We make light of, tiptoe around, discount, pay lip service, poke fun, we employ selective vision and hearing, we self-medicate, we project, yada, yada, yada… read: we have all kinds of tricks for avoiding the uncomfortable things we don’t want to deal with. While not as shrouded in secrecy as some things, grief and loss are still topics lots of people don’t want to talk about, for a million different reasons. So we either channel our inner Juliet and try to convince ourselves it’s something else or we don’t acknowledge it at all.
But left misidentified or unnamed in the hidden recesses of our hearts and minds, our fears and foibles, our hurts and pain, our sorrow and fury can multiply and run amok, terrorizing our every waking moment and disturbing our dreams. Honestly naming and facing what is there, painful as it may be, is important because that is what moves us out of silence, secrecy, and isolation and toward connection and relationship. It is the first step toward healing and wholeness. When God conferred on human beings the responsibility for naming the beasts of the field and the birds of the air included in that was power; dominion over (see Genesis 1:26, 2:19-20). Mark Thibodeaux, SJ puts it this way in his book God’s Voice Within: “…leaving [something] unnamed feeds its power, but naming it allows a person to take ownership of it…”
Because the emotions of my grief journey were the most intense I had ever felt, I was afraid that if I named them I would completely lose control and they would overwhelm me. I was terrified that I would be unleashing Pandora’s box of miseries or uttering a self-fulfilling prophecy of doom. In fact, the very opposite was true. Honestly identifying what was there gave me the power to own it and begin to heal and move on.
When you look at your thoughts, feelings, and life what do you see?
What is its real name?
When you have looked and named, offer it all to the Holy One, who knows you and calls you by name, and ask what you may need to do with it.