My first name, Mallory, means Dark Knight, darkly armored, or in later translations, Dark Night or the Darkest of the Night. At least that’s what a little card my first boyfriend bought me from a gift shop in Eastern Ohio said. It sat on my Western Pennsylvania bedroom shelf for most of high school along with a smattering of pink trinkets that matched my pink walls. Pink wasn’t my favorite color, but it was the color that seemed to make everyone else happy to be my favorite, particularly after my Junior High goth phase. So I sank into it, even though I still preferred black. I was happier to make everyone happier, or at least less worried about me. My middle name, Gayle, I asked Jeeves about after the dial-up connected.
A strong and forceful wind.
I asked my mother, “Did you name me ‘A Dark Night, Strong and Forceful Wind?'”
She shrugged, “I named you after the ditz on Family Ties. And, yeah, probably.”
This, I thought, explains why my favorite color is black.
Earlier this month, we made it to Westcliffe, Colorado a couple of hours before the snowfall. By the following morning, the entire town was covered in 6 inches and counting. Our show that night went on as planned, folks trudging in wearing warm boots and heavy jackets. It was an open evening of full belly laughs and generous spirits. My Someone and I mingled afterwards by the merchandise table, keeping the cold at bay for a little longer. I fell into conversation with a bright light of a woman when I noticed her name tag.
“Gayle!” I said, “That’s my middle name, too. I don’t find many that spell it that way.”
“Oh, but you know what it means?” she asked.
“A strong wind!” I laughed, “A force, really.”
She looked troubled, shook her head.
“No… well, maybe. With a different spelling, I suppose. But this is from Abigail. The Hebrew name meaning ‘Father’s Joy.’ But without the father, Abba, part. Gayle just means Joy.”
I felt the strong wind fall out of my sails.
“Joy,” I said aloud, stupidly.
Gayle thanked me again and bounded off into the bright white snowy Colorado night.
This was a force with which I was not prepared to reckon.
I was still fighting my own Joy by the time we made it to California two weeks later. We were back at my Someone’s parents’ place, nestled sight distance from the Sierra Nevada mountains with orange groves and grapevines in every direction. We spent the early pandemic days here, and I was grateful to return on less tumultuous terms. I took the road reprieve to connect again, and rode a bicycle with my littlest big dog to the water ditch past the first orange grove. Dangling my feet above where the water should be, I called my friend Ann. Ann, from the Hebrew name Hannah, means “favor” or “grace.” Both of which she extended to me as I watched the sun get low on Pacific time, imagining the cold darkness of her Ohio Eastern time.
We talked about our mothers and our jobs and our Someones and landed squarely on God. In Christian culture, we refer to God as “Father.” Names like this are important inasmuch as they give a jumping point for what we cannot know. It’s problematic. For those of us growing up under the name of Father, we are often doomed to fashion God under the same pretenses. If our father was loving, our God was loving. If he was an asshole, then God is an asshole. It’s a simplification, but an important one.
Names are important. What we believe a name means can change who we are.
“I wonder,” said Ann, full of grace, “if you could find another person to fashion God after, if that would change your view of God.”
I thought of my failed attempts as a 20-something to call God a “She” or “Mother,” borrowed from edgy religious authors like Anne Lamott. It was unsuccessful.
I named you after the ditz on Family Ties.
I looked at my littlest big dog.
“I wish I could fashion God after my dog,” I said, laughing.
“Well, you can,” Ann said. “Or just after yourself. Think of how you take care of your dogs. Then make it God, the great loving dog owner, and you, the one she cares for.”
Like taking the Father out of “Father’s Joy,” I could take the Father out of “Father’s Love.”
This sounded like blasphemy from Ann.
I liked it very much.
Names that can be Named
Are not true Names.
The Origin of Heaven and Earth
Has no name.
Free from Desire,
Contemplate the Inner Marvel;
Observe the Outer Radiance.
These issue from One Source,
But have different Names.
Which brought me to the ocean. I was not going to have a beach moment, where the waves lap on shore and I look over them into the horizon and suddenly have a strong feeling of culmination and conclusion. But, goddammit, if my feet didn’t sink into the sand and trap me in the end of a movie.
Last week, we spent our time ocean side in Morro Bay, California, where my Someone’s family gathered for a long overdue post pandemic reunion. Family time is historically nerve wracking for me. In this family, in particular, I am prone to feeling my name– a Dark Night and a Forceful Wind in the plucky make-nice of their ecosystem. This trip, I was adopted by a four-year-old niece named Amelia (meaning “industrious” or “striving”), who became my barnacle for the duration of the week. It was good to have a wild buddy to make faces and talk about colors and watch elephant seals with. She industriously turned my forceful wind into a bubbling joy.
And there, on a beautiful beach next to my littlest big dog, I watched the waves and stopped resisting my Joy.
Maybe it goes like this– that the miracle is not to be loved by a giant know-it-all God. The God I grew up with knew me down to the core– all of my failings, all of my secrets. This was presented as evidence of his love, that he could know all of that and still love me. This is no evidence of love at all. If I could know the every in-and-out of another human, it could only further create empathy, which creates love. To create an all knowing God is to create and all Loving one. That is not miraculous. That’s fantasy.
The miracle, I realized, is that I am a small person on the Pacific coast. And stretching beside and behind me are these other tiny specks of people, scattered by a forceful wind in random directions beneath a potentially infinite universe. And those random floating specks have found me. And from what little they know of me– from what little I know of myself– they love me.
The force inside of me is one of joy. Not a Father’s Joy, but my own. That is a more powerful wind than one that blows from Heaven Above. Soon, I will fall into the waves and be another speck floating in the foam. But for this time, in the Darkest Night in the Biggest Storm, there is a four-year-old and a fifty-four-year-old and a multitude of other varying aged specks who have found me, and I don’t need to be orchestrated by a Father’s hand, or even be named, to feel the full force of it.