When someone speaks your name, it has the power to turn you toward them – to turn your head, or your attention, or your steps, or sometimes your life. Just the sound itself has that power – even before you consider what the sound means, before you start to remember all the stories and take account of all the synapses of relationship that are submerged in the meaning of such a simple thing as a single name.
The discovery of the true meanings of our names takes most of us a lifetime. By the time most of us are adults, it’s as though a name has walked through the deep woods in all the ripest seasons, picking up meanings and memories that cling to it like burrs and milkweed fluff and the smells of life. And when you speak such a pungent name as that, it not only turns the head of the person who bears it; it conjures something of the truth of the person you name. The old, middle-English language of the wedding covenant had it exactly right, I think: this is the moment for the plighting of troth, for the pledging of truth – the moment for placing your name with all its pungent, accumulated truth in the hands of your beloved, for safe-keeping.
Ashley. James. This is a day for the richest speaking of your names – a day for the turning of heads, for the reorientation of steps.
You know much of the meanings dissolved into the letters of those names.
Ashley – the ball of energy, the passionate and outspoken teller of truths, the wearer of the heart on the sleeve. Your cheer props up the people lucky enough to know you; when they have trouble believing in themselves, you believe for them until their faith returns. The touch of your friendship makes people feel magnificent. To James you are a compass – a visionary, a dreamer-come-true. Your leap of faith – into this relationship, into life in California, into your effervescent future – is, so characteristically of you, both an act of impulse and an utterly predictable gift of your hallmark generosity.
James – the careful and deliberate, the thoughtful – the country boy in the city, lover of trees who sometimes struggles to see the forest, yet who considers each leaf, each decision or choice, as though it mattered as much to you as – as it does. Your days are marinated in calm thoughtfulness. For Ashley you are balance; you are anchor; you are foundation. Your unassuming but utterly reliable presence on the other end of the seesaw enables her to play. You say that you enjoy being one of the few people who can calm her down. The solid walls of your love form the space for the freedom of her passion.
Your history in this very place – five years old practically to the minute – showed you what might end up being possible in your future. You made being a JA survivable; you brought focus to a time that needed it. You say that you hope to offer us all an example of love that works hard. You plan to love “fiercely,” you said, you hope that the energy of this commitment of yours will send its ripples outward.
This world which waits to receive the energy of your commitment has not yet learned the meaning of its own name – has not yet learned to turn, to redirect its steps, when it hears its own name as we give voice to our hopes for peace, justice, hope.
But we will all bring that turning closer – we will help teach the world the truth of its name – by learning, with the two of you, how to place our precious names, in all their unfinished truth and mystery, in each other’s hands, for safekeeping – as now you do.