Asteria, Queen of the Rainforest
Do you ever get caught up in taking life a little too seriously? Everything feels intense, every car cutting in front of you is a personal insult, every slow checker in the checkout lane wants to get on your last nerve, every highway patrolman is looking past every other speeding car simply waiting for yours to pass their way? (Hypothetically speaking of course… *snort*). And then something happens to wake you up and maybe put things in more appropriate perspective. Surprisingly or not so much, the whole intensity/seriously thing is an ongoing journey for me, I suppose particularly around high holidays and significant dates of celebrations and losses and rites of passage. When I stop to take a breath, I often remember the following experience that makes me smile every single time.
I knew a wonderfully active and highly invested woman in a church I served many years ago. In nearly any room and any crowd of people she walked into, she would be the smartest by far. She had a double PhD, (I know, who does that?) and devoted her life to persons with special needs of every kind, shape, and form. She used her voice for advocacy in political, social and economic forums and was sorta that person that you want to be but it makes you tired just watching them. She and her husband had a couple of children and they worked hard at opening up the world of learning and life experience and partnerships built on equality and mutual respect. She and her husband had each kept their own last names when they got married as an intentional way for her to claim her individuality at a time in history when the #metoo movement would not have been a blip on the radar screen had there been one. As you can imagine, it was important to her that her daughter be raised with the understanding that she could follow any dream she had and would be encouraged to be her own person independent and strong. One day when her daughter was 10, they were talking about marriage and she explained why she and her husband had decided to keep their own names and that when the daughter was ready, she could choose to legally keep her dad’s last name which she already had, to take her mom’s last name, or to take a husband’s last name or hyphenate.
Life went on and when the child was a year or so older, she came back to her mom and recalled the conversation about marriage and names and said that she thought she would probably take a different name. The mom tried not to show her disappointment that, after all the intentional teaching they’d done around independence and the strength to be your own person and not being pressured to define yourself by your husband’s identity, she nonchalantly as possible asked the daughter why. And the daughter said in essence that well, she believed she wanted to live in South America and try to save the rainforest and the name Linda did not seem to fit the magnitude of that mission, so she believed she would change her name to Asteria, Queen of the Rainforest. Her mom was so caught by surprise she was speechless and her daughter went on saying that she’d been reading Greek mythology and Asteria means “of the sky” and she liked the thought of saving the rainforest knowing she was “of the sky.” The mom would tell you now that her daughter did then and continues now to keep her humble of heart and lighter of spirit than she ever thought possible. And that, in fact, learning to lighten up a bit has made her more effective at her life and work.
I LOVE that story. I love the reminder of the gift of simplicity when our minds obsess in the complexities. I love the creativity that happens when we realize we don’t now nor have we ever been in control of the lives of those we love and for whom we have primary care. I love the awareness that when we lead with openness to new ideas and a willingness to hear the hearts of others, we can be quickly brought back to a reality that both reminds us of our unique value AND that we are one of everyone else who has unique value, and that while we are important, we are no less and no more important than any other of God’s beloved humanity.
So I’ve thought a fair amount about if I would ever change my name – you know around becoming queen of everything or pope or something. What I came up with is Analise. You may not believe this, but I came up with that BEFORE checking to see what the name means. It is actually a Hebrew baby name that means, grace/devoted to God. I know, right? And I truly did think of it before knowing any of that. It might be that if I believed in past lives, which I really don’t, but if I did, I might wonder if that’s why it sifted to my conscience.
Anyway, if you are in a season where everything feels pretty dependent and heavy , maybe you spend a little time thinking about a little girl whose mom desperately wanted her daughter to be strong and independent, a mom who became crestfallen when the little girl wanted to change her name thinking she had failed her, and the sudden realization of how off-the-track-too-serious she had become the moment her daughter told her she was going to be Queen of the Rainforest someday and the name Linda simply wasn’t going to work. I hope it makes you smile and take a step back and breathe and maybe even decide. You know, of what you might want to be queen or king, and what therefore your name change might need to be? Smile with me today and maybe we both lighten up a little!