When I started this last year, I was faced quite painfully with many of the forgotten and unexpressed emotions that I had for such a long time resisted. I was a boy once with dreams, an imagination, an innocence, and a carefree-ness.
I began to believe things, one way or another, about myself. Things that were not true. Things that made that boy “grow up.”
Shame, guilt, competence, fitting in, having the right answers, not getting caught… these were things that I didn’t know or care anything about. But I began to believe things, one way or another, about myself. Things that were not true. Things that
made that boy “grow up” and push down feelings of loneliness, sadness, anger, and confusion. My supervisor told me one day, “Nate, I want to know that little boy’s name.” For a long time, I just called him “the Little Swedish Baptist boy.” He was the one who was hurt, the one who was not quite ok just the way he was.
And then one day, or over the course of a few days (I don’t remember how the process fits together), I realized that I have always been known as Nate. At least since our family moved to Michigan and I first experienced what it was like to be bullied by my peers. There was another Nathan in the class, a mean little guy, who was so cruel to some of us. I was the new kid so I accepted the name change. And Nate was the self I crafted. Nate became, to an extent, a false self. Not to say there weren’t glimpses of my true self coming through, and often, but I’ve experienced a lot of “hedging in” in my 34 years. A natural and good curiosity told that this or that was outside the realms of orthodoxy or was “new age” or was silly or an embarrassment… the list could go on. I realized that around the time of using “Nate” as my name, I first began experiencing tangible shame.
So I tried introducing myself as Nathan. It was a reminder to myself that my true self can do this job. My true self is ok to be present here. Often speaking of this significance brought me to tears. So Nathan is sticking. As my supervisor noted one day, “It’s almost as though you are realizing that Nate can’t authentically do this work of chaplaincy, but Nathan can.” How true, how true. It becomes easier and easier for me to speak of myself as Nathan, a name that for many, many years didn’t seem like it fit me any more. Each time, part of my true self is brought into the relationship and I am reminded of who I am.
Traditional rites of passage for men almost always involved some sort of naming. A boy would go into the wilderness, leaving his family and his community, to connect with Spirit and with self. It was in the wilderness that he would find what his true gift to give to the community was. And he would be given his new name. He would then re-enter the the world of his people with his new responsibility (Bill Plotkin calls it the “soulcraft”) and his new name. It is in a legacy such as this that I will often say that this time has been a year-long rite of passage. For I have my soulcraft, my sacred dance, and I have my name.