Tuesday, September 2, 2014

An Everlasting Name: A Thread in the Tapestry of Eternity

When it comes to family names, I'm in a unique position.  It's kind of complicated to explain, but suffice it to say that, although I grew up surrounded by my biological relatives, until I was married I was the only person in my whole family, biological or otherwise, who had my last name.  That's right, it didn't come from my father or from my mother.  It's not even the last name of a step parent.  There was literally no relative of mine, by any definition of the word "relative," who shares my name with me.  None living, and none dead.  I was it.  And for as long as I could remember, I'd always been it.

This may not seem like a big deal, but throughout my life it has often made me feel like I didn't fully belong anywhere.  Don't get me wrong, I never felt like an "outsider" in my own family or anything like that.  However I never knew the experience of belonging to the "insert-last-name-here" family.  This was even more jarring because my own immediate family was eclectic when it came to surnames, with none of my parental figures (and I had five of them--long and complicated story, that) sharing a single last name in common either, not even the two who actually raised me.  

For a long time, not having known who my biological father was, I supposed that he probably shared my last name, but when my mother finally revealed his identity to me (at age twelve, if you can believe it took me that long to pry it out of anybody) it turned out that wasn't true either.  

Of course not silly!  That would make sense!

What does this mean for me?  Well, growing up it meant that I never had a sense of pride in any certain name.  I think, even among a lot of families that don't take "family pride" seriously, there's at least some sort of subconscious pride or loyalty in the family name, even if--for the more argumentative types of families--it's only the "I can talk badly about them but no one else had better!" sort of pride and loyalty.  One's last name evokes images and associations of family, origin, and heritage.  I had none of that.  My name evoked nothing except vague (completely imagined) visions of a man who, until I hit puberty, I thought might be my father.  Once I no longer had that illusion, my name evoked nothing at all...

I've met a few other people who share my name, over the course of my life.  They always assumed maybe we were related somehow.  The sad thing is, although I knew better, I too entertained this notion, which goes to show how desperate I was, on some level, to know that I was actually connected to somebody who bore my name.  

What it began to mean to me as I grew older, on the other hand, has proven even worse in some ways.  It means that, for all intents and purposes, I am the start of a new family name.  While the name pre-existed me, it's a whole different branch than any other family, and I'm the start of it.  Because the name belongs to no relatives who came before me, the only way I will ever know that my name belongs to a rich heritage and lasting family history is if I start it myself.  

It's probably already occurred to you:  That's no small amount of pressure!  My wife, despite how immediately blessed we've been so far, has fertility issues that could flare up at any time.  Due to health reasons, we're not even the best candidates to be considered for adoption.  We always have to face the possibility--which for us is very distinct, and not just the "well, technically everybody has to face it" sort--that whatever children we have at a given time might be "it" for us.  Right now, that would mean we have two children, one daughter and one son, and that could be all.

Let's say that were true.  Or let's say our son ended up being our only son, even if we have more children.  Who's to say he'll marry?  Perhaps he'll be a priest, or a monk, or simply be called to live out the vocation of being single.  He could get married yet have no children, or at least no sons.  Then, just like that, my name, insofar as it means anything to my family, totally ends, and I may be alive to see the writing on the wall.  Also consider how absolutely certain this end would be:  Many people in my shoes might at least entertain the notion that somewhere in their family, even if it's only an impossibly distant tenth cousin on the other side of the world, there is a relative carrying on the family in both blood and name.  That weight, the odds are, is not solely on their shoulders.  My wife's father, for instance, is seeing his own name die with himself in his particular branch, but he does have distant relatives somewhere carrying on the name.  I know that I don't have that, because my name is not traced back through a series of ancestors who might have branched off five generations ago so that, I dunno, in Germany or Africa or wherever the name still carries their legacies.  The name began with me.  If the name lasts, I am the ancestor from whom all my descendants will have inherited it.

I suppose you thought being a patriarch was easy, did you?

I realize I'd be jumping the gun to start planning what I want on the tombstone for my family name (1985-?), but it is a concern that I can't help but call to mind.  And if the worst case scenario does occur, I'd be lying to say it wouldn't bother me deeply.

Why does it bother me so much?  It's surely natural that it would bother a person, but when it does get on my mind, I get outright anxious about it!  

I'm convinced that some of this anxiety comes from having too much focus on seemingly fleeting moments and not enough on eternity.  You see, I'm looking at my name--and my life, for that matter--as something that takes place and finds existence for as long as it lasts on Earth, and then passes away when that time ends.  I don't mean that I think I won't exist for eternity; as a Catholic I'm deeply aware of that, but what I'm failing to consider is that, if God stands outside of time, then to Him each and every moment, down to the smallest instant, must be engraved into eternity, never to truly pass away.  There is no accomplishment, no triumph, no beauty, by the Grace of God, that will turn to dust, because even though it may become dust with the passage of time, the moments where it was not dust stand before the eyes of God for all eternity.  

Just as God could see the future before it happens, so too He will see the past even when countless aeons have seen it turn to dust from our vantage point.  And this is not merely because he will "remember" it in the human sense of the word, it is because to Him every single moment to have ever passed or that will ever come is present before Him, as real and concrete as "now" is to us.  When we are privileged to stand in eternity with Him, it will be the same for us.  That's what it is to live outside of time.  As scripture states, time does, indeed, pass away as something in which we are contained, but by the very nature of what eternity is--a constant now--it cannot be a place where what happened in the confines of time is truly obliterated.  Because that would mean eternity had changed, that once there was "time," which God could see from His vantage point outside of it, and then at some point there is no such thing.  Because change and eternity are incompatible, we can safely say that all of time is frozen in eternity, it's just that we will not be bound in it.

If, however, you find that in eternity time is frozen in the middle of a workday,
you may want to check your surroundings for agonizing flames and consult the nearest thermometer.

Therefore, whatever becomes of me on the "timeline," my name and my bloodline will exist forever, even in time, by virtue of the fact that those moments will exist forever.  It cannot die, it's just that there may be one point on the timeline in the future where it is no longer found.  But this moment, all moments where it is found, are set in stone.  Will always be.  In that way, it is impossible for anything to become lost to time, because time itself is never lost.  

I'm aware that this is going to sound horrible to many people.  If time is frozen in eternity, then doesn't that mean that all the terrible moments will stand for eternity too?  Will we be forced to relive agonizing, regrettable, or terrifying moments from our lives for all eternity?  No, it's not like that, and there are two reasons.  The first is that, as I said, we won't be bound by time; we will no longer exist in time, so we won't be "reliving" anything in the strict sense of the phrase.  

The second reason, and the more important one, is that we will see it from the perspective of the eternal.  Scripture tells us that "all things work together for the good of those who love the Lord."  We also know that all things will ultimately glorify God, no matter how terrible they seem in the moment.  I believe that in Heaven, all of time and material existence will be like something of a beautiful tapestry.  That tapestry, perhaps, will be like a story told in pictures, the history of humanity and of God's works.  And we know that, like any excellent story, the complete tapestry will be brilliant, beautiful, and awe inspiring.  But there will also be "moments" in the story, or "threads" in the tapestry which, if taken by themselves out of context of the whole, will appear ugly, and perhaps even which are ugly on their own.  But when these threads are woven into the overall tapestry, we will find that somehow the contrasts they create with all the beautiful and fine threads makes the tapestry just as beautiful as, if not more so than, it would have been without them.  

This, I think, is the balance between saying that nothing in this life matters next to eternity (if that's true, then why should it matter how we live our lives?!) and saying that what we do in this life has a chance of spoiling eternity (which would be a bleak and terrible idea!).  Yes, we should strive to add only the most beautiful of threads to the tapestry of "time," but we can also rest assured that when we stumble, or when others seem to introduce plain, unimpressive, or even outright atrocious threads to the tapestry, somehow God will see to it that these compliment the rest of the tapestry so that the final work we will behold in Heaven will be breathtakingly amazing.   Looked at this way, "time" and every single instant in it does have eternal significance, but cannot taint eternity for God nor those who remain faithful to Him.

And it's by that perfect, artistic tension that I may know that my name, as fragile and precarious as it seems to be, is in no danger of fading into obscurity.  Neither is yours, nor anyone else's.  

I actually intended to go somewhere else with this originally, but this is where it went instead!  There's an even more vital element to the anxiety I sometimes feel around this topic, so I do want to dive into it in a future post, perhaps the next one.  So be on the lookout for it!

No comments:

Post a Comment