Knowing our Names

My husband just handed me the morning paper and I glanced over to see new coaches “named”, young people serving in summer projects and a line stretched across the middle about a “gunman” and five lost lives. No mention of the names, the story not yet complete.

As a child, my cousins and I all hurried into town because my granddaddy, “Dan Dan” might have seen a famous man. My granddaddy, was named Austin, my grandma was Doris followed by Evelyn,their last name, it was Peacock.

It was a big deal when they heard he was coming through and since everybody flocked to see him, I reckon we went too.

Or, I don’t know, maybe we just happened to be with our grandma and we waited on the sidewalk with the others in a town with just a caution light, one grocery store and eventually, my mama’s little cafe’.

My family might tell a different story than the one my memory cradles. I’m learning this happens to some of us, some of us with clarity buffered by old wounds.

But, I remember the excitement of him, the “Goat Man”

I first thought he’d be scary, a creature like man and goat, my little girl imagination found it not at all nonsensical to decide.

Instead, he was old and bearded and he sat up high on a seat with an even loftier pile of his belongings, a handwritten sign telling the onlookers they should prepare to meet God.

All of his stuff and him, pulled slowly forward by a bunch of goats tethered and it seemed to me the little animals were confused and without other options.

Is it goats or sheep they say are not so intelligent? I believe it’s sheep, maybe goats too.

Random, I know, I thought about the Goat Man the other day, thought about his choice to live in such a way. I wanted to know more, were there photos, was there more to explore about his way of wandering?

My initial fascination was over the load he carried, his burdensome travel and I’d planned to correlate it to thoughts on our burdens and worrisome load. Instead, I began to be fascinated by his life, his name, his chosen way.

I googled “The Goat Man” and was happy that I’d remembered him correctly, found photos in counties surrounding my county of childhood, peered closely at his load and tried to see exactly what all he carried.

I looked closely for signs of vocation, curious over how he made his way.

I saw his name, the name his mama gave him and the one that came from the father.

It was Charles.

What a solid name I thought, Charles.

I bet not many of us knew it. I read of his life as an itinerant preacher and how he’d been mugged a couple of times; but, was trying to make it to California. There was a certain actress his heart was set on meeting.

Eventually, he gave up and his mind and heart must’ve acknowledged there was no more preaching for him to do and no more ground to cover.

I thought of a man named John, actually two that have crossed my path more than once.

One, refusing help because of his need for inebriation. He continues sleeping in an old abandoned place. The other walks the streets and the back roads or I’ve seen him resting on the tables the Publix employees use for breaks.

Both of them have beautiful names, John.

I’m remembering Amanda…the one I’ve heard is so thin I’d not recognize now. If I saw her, I’d try to welcome her back in. Can’t help but think of the beauty of her name and the sweet lilting melody of Waylon Jennings…”Amanda…light of my life…”

Now I’m wondering if she’s ever heard the song, I’m trying to figure out how I might be sure she listens, how I’d rush to greet her, hold her in a hug and say her name, “Amanda” she’d be sure to know I was so glad to find her.

Yesterday, we were talking, our shelter staff and I, a former volunteer is coming to work. An answer to a prayer that God send staff who want more than just a job, people who understand why we help, someone with compassion.

And He has. He sent two by surprise.

She mentioned some names and we lingered long over the ones who were in good places, were wordless over the ones who’d again lost their way.

We can’t fully understand what we don’t know.

We can only respond with the kindness, kindness like calling them by name not by circumstance.

Not homeless, not drunk or druggie, not lazy or entitled, not “Goat Man” and not crazy, gunman or victim.

Charles chose to travel with God and goats and all of his belongings, it seems he was oblivious to the gawking eyes and spectacle of himself. He left his legacy, a big sign pointing out God.

Preparing to speak about suicide on Monday, I updated my bio and I added some things I’d not mentioned before, a description of an artist, a writer. Not elaborate or showy in their mention, simply acknowledged in a new way.

Unafraid to believe in the possibility of both and that mine and other stories can be rewritten.

“When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?

Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet,

the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas.

O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” Psalms 8:3-6, 8-9‬ ‭ESV‬‬

God is mindful of us, of us all.

He knows our names.

In tragedy and triumph, He knows.

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