What’s in a name?

I’ve seen him before, the man in the wide-brimmed, floppy hat with the steady gait. We both like to walk around the park in our neighborhood; he travels clockwise, I go counterclockwise. We are different, the man and I. Different generations, different ethnicities. Yet, if I go for a walk mid-day, our paths will likely cross.

As we approached each other last week, I remembered that I’ve seen him before. I remembered his hat. 20 feet away, the man veered off the path to give me a wide berth. Perhaps he is concerned about contracting COVID; perhaps he was being considerate in case I am. As we pass, I smiled and called out.

“Hi. I’m Kristen.”

A slight pause. He smiled.

“I’m Tom.”

“Hi, Tom. Nice to meet you.”

He continued clockwise. I continued counterclockwise.

The next lap, I didn’t see the man in the floppy hat. I saw Tom, my neighbor. We are the same, the man and I, fellow park-walkers.

“For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'” – Galatians 5:14

In recent months, following tragedies, there have been passionate calls to “Say her name!” Naming personalizes; it humanizes. But what if we didn’t wait until after? What if we were to be more intentional on a daily basis about really seeing people, saying their names, and recognizing their humanity? Would it change the way we view and treat others?

How can we better love our neighbors? Maybe we should start by saying their names. The weary store clerk who didn’t make the rules but is required to follow them has a name. The online commenter you are tempted to respond to aggressively has a name. That person down the street with the yard sign for the candidate you don’t support has a name. The man in the park with the big floppy hat has a name. Each name represents a person, made in God’s image, who is far more than what we can see.

On my final lap, Tom and I passed again.

“One more time around?” he asked, making a circle with his finger.

“Last one for me today – I’m out of water,” I replied, pointing to my empty bottle.

He gave a little shrug and nodded knowingly as if to say, “I understand.”

I smiled to myself as I walked away.

Until we meet again, Tom.

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