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.” On my own, I was often asked, “which one are you again?” I don’t blame them. Even I have trouble identifying myself in our childhood photos.
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 my 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 — 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 right name, to paraphrase a Chinese proverb.
Dale Carnegie once said, “a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.”
Imagine a life without hearing that sweet sound.
That can be a harsh 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 struggles.
Since I began working at Springs Rescue Mission in 2019, I’ve had countless conversations with our guests. Some have been among the best of my life, and I consider many of those men and women dear friends. Many have gone days, weeks or longer without hearing the sweet and special sound of their own names. Their names begin to fade and are replaced by “homeless.”
But 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 names that have the power to remind them of that fact. When evoked, calling someone by 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 may have gotten lost along the way.
For our neighbors in need, remembering and calling someone by their right name transcends language. It calls deeply to identity and individuality. It creates feelings of safety, respect and value.
This is at the core of helping restore dignity and humanity to those who have lost sight of it in themselves. 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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