Identical: similar in every detail; exactly alike.
Growing up an identical twin, it was sometimes — maybe more often than not — a challenge to develop and maintain my own sense of identity.
Many friends and family members referred to us collectively as “the twins.” When flying solo, I was often asked, “which one are you again?”
I don’t blame them. Even I have trouble identifying myself in childhood photos of the two of us.
But I can’t remember grandma ever forgetting my name. That doesn’t mean she didn’t; but it was such an exception to the rule that the inevitability is now obscured from memory.
When she had something important to say, she’d lean toward me, looking over the rim of her glasses, and with raised eyebrows began her story by emphatically stating my name: “Cameron.”
The wisdom of sages would sometimes follow. Other times, they were words of little consequence; like an exaggerated tale of bargain-hunting at the grocery store, or an endearing opinion about current events.
Regardless of the content, I felt seen and understood by her. I felt important, because grandma was telling me — and only me — something she cared about.
She called me by my name.
Dale Carnegie once said that, “a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.”
Imagine living without hearing that sweet sound.
That’s the reality for the thousands of men and women struggling with homelessness, poverty, unemployment and addiction who come to Springs Rescue Mission for help each year. They are people who, for one reason or another, have been marginalized and depersonalized by the circumstances of their struggle.
But people are not their temporal problems. Their true identities are not wrapped up in bank statements, fashion choices or where they lay their heads at night. They are as God made them and carry the name they were given. When evoked, someone’s name can help restore dignity and self-worth. It can cause them to feel important and valued. It can remind them of who they are — the identity that sometimes gets lost along the way.
Since I began working at Springs Rescue Mission last September, I’ve had hundreds of conversations with our guests. Some have been among the best of my life, and I consider many of those men and women my friends.
These are people who go days (or longer) without hearing the sweet and special sound of their own name. Down on their luck, they begin to fade and flow into a crowd of nameless men and women. Their names becomes “homeless.”
For them, it’s about much more than just a name. It’s about identity and individuality. It’s about feeling safe, respected and valued again. When individuality becomes the exception to the rule, identity becomes a precious commodity.
When speaking of the India’s social group of “untouchables”, activist and reformer B.R. Ambedkar said this: “Unlike a drop of water which loses its identity when it joins the ocean, man does not lose his being in the society in which he lives. Man’s life is independent. He is born not for the development of the society alone, but for the development of his self.”
Let us remember that we are all but drops in the ocean, but that there can be no ocean without each drop.
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