"Proper names are poetry in the raw.
Like all poetry they are untranslatable."
~ W.H. Auden ~
"Our names are labels, plainly printed on
the bottled essence of our past behavior."
~ Logan Pearsall Smith ~
Names. This should have been an easy post to write, or so I thought, until I started to write it four days ago. I have written, re-written, changed the title, the quotes and the graphic. I have stewed. It seemed silly. And then, yesterday, when I was holding my grandbaby in my arms, snuggled in my left arm and writing in my notebook, balanced on the right arm of the couch, I did a little experiment, and it helped me to understand not only quite a lot, but I realized, in that moment, the perfect way to approach what I wanted to say. Bear with me. It may be a strange post to some. And the journal teacher in me wants to tell you all to try this exercise. You might be surprised where you end up.
Naming is a very important thing, from the name given to the newborn babe in his or her parent's arms (and oh how parents struggle for just the right name...) to the names we will take in our adult life, whether a married name, or after divorce taking a different name, perhaps graduating from medical school or a PhD program and putting "Dr." in front of your name, all of these things are stepping stones along the path in our lives and each name holds so much information about our lives, so much that we carry in our heart, so much history and mystery, things that are emblazoned in our minds and things we have long since forgotten or blocked out. Now that's a whole different exercise, to try to list, and it may take weeks or months, the things that are still illuminated in our minds maybe 50 years later, as well as the things we have pushed away, blocked out intentionally, or carry as a heavy burden even today. (And put that baggage down. You've carried it long enough.)
So, yesterday, I jotted down my list of names and made little notes of explanation about them, very brief, and I am going somewhere with this!
1.) Baby Smith ... This is what it actually said on my first birth certificate. I was "relinquished," that being what the process of a birth mother handing her newborn child over to be placed in another's care, and I would remain in St. Mary's Hospital in Springfield, Illinois for one month before I was adopted.
2.) Marcia Ann Reidel ... This was my first name, given to me by my first adoptive parents, but they were separated by the time I was two, and my mother was remarried when I was 4 to a man who legally adopted me making me...
3.) Marcia Ann Tyson ... which was the name I carried for 16 years, from 4-20, when I would marry a lovely man and become ...
4.) Marcia Tyson Kolb... I lived this name for quite some time. From 20, in November 1974 until April 30, 1999, when I was 45 and separated from my 25 year marriage. Of course I still had this name until June 2005 when our divorce was final.
Upon my divorce I went straight to the courthouse and took the name I had been using unofficially for nearly a year, but made it legal on July 8, 2005. On that day I became Maitri Libellule. People wonder why? Well, when you are divorced in midlife and you know there may be another Mrs. ______ on the horizon, and you don't want to go back to your maiden name because you came from a history of abuse and the maiden name represents things you'd rather not carry with you into the future, the taking of a new name is a very powerful thing to do and I had been thinking about it for a few years before it finally happened. I filed the papers the day of the divorce but as in the old town squares where they put things up on a board for all the townsfolk to see, they had to post my old/new names on a board just outside the office door of the County Clerk's office for 10 days before the name change could be finalized. I found this hilarious. The office is deep in the bowels of the courthouse, hard to find and NObody would go there unless they had business of their own meaning they couldn't give two hoots about my name change. Finally the day came and I stood out in the beautiful sunshine on the courthouse steps with all my paperwork in my hands. I was now, legally and for all time.....
5.) Maitri Libellule ... Well, this name shocked everyone, no one understood it, not to mention spell or pronounce it, but that's okay, it had very deep meaning for me. As I have said before I took the name Maitri for the teaching of maitri, the Buddhist teaching of loving-kindness and compassion. I knew that my work for the rest of my life would be deeply spiritual and I wanted a name to reflect that, as well as being something I could remember and work toward living up to every day of my life. I fail, I fall down, but I keep getting up, because my name is Maitri and it is my responsibility.
I am half French, my biological grandmother's maiden name was Papillon (Butterfly in French...) and my home, and the 10 year old website I just closed, and all of my work was named Dragonfly Cottage. The Dragonfly is my totem animal. He leads us out of the darkness and into the light. This, too, would be part of my spiritual journey, and I was simply in awe as I went that day from the Social Security Office with my new card (You keep your same number but they issue you a new card with your new name.), the Driver's License bureau with a new driver's license saying "Maitri Libellule," which I just couldn't get over. For a long time I looked at the notarized paperwork, the social security card, the driver's license, and myriad other things and I giggled. Well, it was very important to me but it felt kind of fluttery and silly and yet very serious and deep at the same time. I have spent 4 1/2 years truly living my name until my given name, married name and so on seem a distant memory. And you don't just take a new name. You step into a completely new life when you take on a new name. I was reborn.
Auden wrote, in the quote at the top, that names are like poetry, and that they are untranslatable. This is absolutely true. I can tell you what my name is but that doesn't mean you know me. I can tell you why I took the name and what it means and you might think you understand but you couldn't possibly. The absolute truth is that when I took the name Maitri Libellule, I didn't just change my name, I changed my life, like the taking of the veil in a cloistered order. I retreated to my little cottage and went much deeper with the work I'd been doing for over 20 years, though few people realized it. I was dedicating my life to spirit, to prayer, to a life of service, teaching, counseling, healing, and most importantly, loving.
There are many kinds of love. The love we have for our parents, siblings if you have them (I am an only child.), for your spouse or partner, for your children, for your friends, and all are very special kind of loves. They are deep, and true, and fulfilling.
I myself am deeply in love with a woman I've known for 7 years, and should we ever decide to make a commitment to one another it will be the greatest joy and most tremendous love that two humans can experience. I love her with my whole heart and soul and being. But this, too, is a human love, it is temporal on this earth, everlasting in the afterlife, but somewhat limited in scope while we walk our parallel paths on this terra firma.
I knew when I took the name Maitri that I had chosen, not just a name, but a path, the path I would follow the rest of my life, and while I don't have it all figured out yet, I am definitely walking on that path each day that I am alive. I am a woman who has given her life to God, and whose path is one of service, what Ram Dass calls Compassion-In-Action. And to further complicate things, as I barely leave my home all of my work is done via computer, phone, and mail. The next name I would take would be the name that would put a seal on my true name and life, and this one I have struggled with. I feel it needs an explanation.
When I was ordained, the first weekend in January of this year, I had a limited choice of titles that I could take to designate myself as a clergy person, and this was very difficult. From the beginning I knew what I wanted to take, because it fit like nothing else, but I felt shy about it. My initial ordination papers said Reverend Maitri Libellule. Somehow I knew this was temporary, and by the time I received my wallet i.d. my true title was put on it. I am now:
6.) Reverend Mother Maitri Libellule ... I felt very shy taking this name, for the most part, I suppose, because I grew up Catholic and the head nun, if you will, was called Reverend Mother in many orders. I was not going to be a nun, but like they call Priests "Father," Buddhist men are monks and women nuns, and so on, I wanted a name that I felt better represented who I am. I am a mother of three and grandmother of one so far. I have a very soft, gentle, feminine, nurturing nature, and I mother everything that moves or breathes and have a very special gift for working with animals, most especially "difficult" parrots who have been given up on, and I am involved in pug rescue with 4 rescue pugs in my little home, not to mention big sweet old Moe who came from the Humane Society. I have always had a gentle way with my students, with those I have counseled and worked with, and from the time I took the name Maitri quite a number of people started calling me "Mama Maitri." I thought it was cute, but didn't give it much thought. And then, I was ordained.
Ordination is a very big step. You can be a very devout member of your faith, without taking that step, but if you do, once you do, you stop being an individual concerned first and foremost with your own life and that of those close to you, you give your life over to that of committed service and in my case, as I live a life almost completely cloistered, living very much like an anchorite, my path would have to be one of long distance ministering, an outreach ministry, via internet, phone and mail. And that's what I am doing, and I am working very hard to structure it. It is both humbling and exciting to realize that I will not be ministering from a church to a local congregation, but to people all over the world. Humbling and important. Warm, gentle, and motherly, as best I can.
My in house "congregation" are the twelve animals that I live with, and it is a true learning experience every day. Last week, Maya, the macaw, came back to live with me as I wrote a couple of weeks ago. This bird, whom everyone, except Jeff, is afraid of, and who hadn't been with me for a decade, now lays her head on my shoulder and I hug her and kiss her all over her face. She is like a baby in my arms. I am her mother. I feed her warm formula from a very large syringe to help her gain weight and feel nurtured, to bring the life force back into her. She looks up at me with the small bright eyes of a child, unsure, but wanting to believe that this time she will be loved and cared for all day long. She already talks to me and has picked up language from the other parrots here. I am a mother to my animal family, to my children and grandchild, to many people I have worked with, I seem to fall into that role, without thinking or trying, and I always wondered why, and now I know.
Perhaps the most important part of my ministry is to help those who need help, love those who feel unloved, nurture in any way that I can, show compassion and kindness to all that I meet, and help new souls be birthed into this world, meaning helping someone transform themselves from a person lost and in pain, to a person who can begin the path of transformation, finding their true path in life, and helping them through. I was trained as a lay midwife by a doctor. I am a midwife in people's lives today. I say that shyly, blushing a little, but it is the truth of my being, of my world, of my commitment.
To that end I will now use my proper title, Reverend Mother Maitri, but Maitri is just fine. As I have to use the title in certain circumstances, I felt I'd best start using it and make it clear why I am.
There is a beautiful meditation by Thich Nhat Hanh. In the hour long meditation he plants seeds to guide our meditation, and one that made me cry until my shoulders shook was that no matter who we are today, who our mother is, our father, and those around us, we should meditate on them as a five year old child. We all started out innocent and pure. Life takes us and does what it will for this earth journey, and perhaps an example that I can give you is what happened to me when my father died, he who had abused me.
As he lay dying, I sat next to his bed holding his hand with my left hand and writing in my journal with my right hand, writing it all out, the pain, the confusion, the anger, the pain in my body and soul, and through the process of those days, watching this man die, I let go, I forgave him. I will be forever marked by the abuse, but as I wrote in a book I hold very dear, we have to draw the line in the sand somewhere. I wrote in that book, "How do we stop the chain of pain, the gift that keeps on giving?"
It didn't start with my father. I am who I am because of what he did to me, but he was who he was because of what was done to him, and so on and so forth back and back and back. Finally, if we are to be at peace, and truly love, we must forgive, not just the person who harmed us, but so that we can be released and begin to find peace inside. My father died the day before Valentine's Day, 1988, 21 years ago, and I have done a lot of therapy and writing and living my way into my new skin because of that experience. Not the abuse, the forgiving.
No, it doesn't happen overnight. I still had my children to raise, home school, the marriage would eventually end, and I would spend a decade alone in such pain, such a long rebirthing, that it felt as though I were naked in this world. Not just without clothes, but without skin. I shed my old skin over that decade and once naked you enter the cocoon and begin to grow into a whole new being. I went into the cocoon Marcia Tyson Kolb, and I came out Maitri Libellule. And this year I became Reverend Mother Maitri Libellule, and while you can just call me Maitri, I wear the mantle with pride, and with the full weight of the responsibility. I am Reverend Mother Maitri, and while I felt shy at first even saying it out loud, I am wearing it now with pride, it is part of my new skin, of the woman I will be for the rest of my life.
I can say it now, with pride, blushing a little, still feeling a bit shy, knowing that a lot of people will think I'm "putting on airs" using a title, and yet with a macaw on my shoulder, a big black dog laying on my feet, an old pug fella asleep on my other shoulder, I know that I am meant to be exactly who I am: a mother, a grandmother, a reverend, a reverend mother, a Mother Maitri, a compassionate healer, a gentle tender of souls, and as my prayer beads move through my fingers, I pray for each of you, for everyone in the world, and I truly do love from a generous open heart, with a name that is unnameable, with a bottle on the table in front of me full of the essence of my past lives, many lives in one, so that I never forget who I was, nor who I am, and I never stop moving forward, no matter how I tremble, no matter people's opinions of my unorthodox way of ministering, no matter those who doubt me, and I can draw a line in the sand when it is all too much, and sit here with my animals and my fiber work, because that's who I am too.
Unexplainable. Unnameable. Me.