I was watching “The Hobbit” the other day, and it came to that scene in which Bilbo Baggins is trying to avoid telling the great dragon, Smaug, about himself. So, he claimed a list of descriptors that, he thought, would disguise his origins from the dragon. “Barrel Rider,” “Ring Winner,” “Stinging Fly,” and “Web Cutter,” to name a few.
And, it got me to thinking, we name our children entirely too young. Like, we put this label on them before we know a darn thing about them. Sometimes we name them after favored relatives, or famous people, as if we’re trying to project onto them some sort of life trajectory, some collection of characteristics that we hope they will emulate in life.
That’s an awful lot of pressure, you know?
As a teacher, I always had the reverse problem: so many names conjured up images of troublesome kids that it was difficult, sometimes, to settle on a name.
The Catholics have a nice tradition. When a Catholic child goes through the Sacrament of Confirmation, they are given a new name, one that has significance in the Church, and which, presumably, reflects what the parents and priests have been able to ascertain about the character of the child. In my case, this happened when I was 13, and my parents chose for me the name “Thomas,” after the disciple who was known as “The Doubting.”
See? I’ve been asking annoying questions for a long time—it’s not new to this column.
My own children would probably have different names now, if we had known who they were before labeling them. For instance, my eldest, whom we named “Elizabeth,” would be known as “Grace.” And not simply because she is a dancer, though dancing has been, heretofore, her defining characteristic. No, Grace is much more than that.
According to Mirriam-Webster, grace is “beauty and ease… pleasant, controlled and polite.” When I think of graceful athletes, I think of people who make very difficult movements seem effortless and easy; when I think of graceful personalities, I think of people who manage challenging moments with ease and an ability to put others at ease. Lizzy has a remarkable ability to step into difficult situations and make them easy for other people; sometimes, to a fault. Sometimes, to the point that she takes more of the burden of the moment onto herself than she should or than she deserves. It is a reflection of great strength on her part.
But, there is another sense of the word “Grace” that is all too often overlooked in this society. Grace is also the ability to extend to another person the best of intentions, and to offer them an opportunity to return to the common company through mistakes. It is a part of our Christian heritage, beginning with the belief that human sin is forgiven through Grace; it extends between humans when we choose to see mistakes as just that—mistakes—and not condemn and shun somebody on account of their mistakes. Lizzy is remarkable in this regard, in that she does not remember wrongs, but focuses on the successes and qualities of the people in her life, and chooses to see how they enrich her, rather than how they’ve wronged her.
It’s a wonderful quality. And one that, I might add, has become horribly corrupted in latter-day America. We’re great at extending grace … to the people of our own political persuasion. A Democrat can be seen in blackface, or a Republican caught in an extramarital affair, and survive because their own tribe is all too happy to extend them grace. But not the other guys.
That’s not Grace—that’s cheerleading. That’s being a fan, and it has very little resemblance to the lives of Princess Dianna, or Grace Kelly, or Gandhi.
We all screw up, therefore, we all need grace. Wouldn’t it be substantially easier to expect if we gave of it freely, ourselves?
By the bye… we here on the west side of Denver are very blessed to have a world-class theater operation in our backyard. If you haven’t seen the Arvada Center’s “Into the Woods,“ you have about three days left to catch it. Highly recommend!!
Michael Alcorn is a former teacher and current writer who lives in Arvada with his wife and three children. His new novel, “Valkyrie’s Kiss,” a finalist in the ScreenCraft Book Competition, is available now at email@example.com. His opinions are not necessarily those of Colorado Community Media.
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