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Tuesday, 11 March 2014

The Power of the Name

The Power of the Name

There is something special about our name. It’s probably one of the first words that we readily respond to – and that continues for all our lives. Though we are not totally identified with our name (we are much, much more than that), our name is a powerful entity that sets us apart from those around us. It is the way in which we are singled out, whether we are present or absent from the conversation.

When we give our name to others, it speaks of a change in the relationship – from a contract, to a deep friendship. If we withhold our name, there is a usually compelling reason why we choose that action – a refusal to enter into some kind of partnership, even at the basic level.

Parents-to-be often spend hours choosing a name for their new addition, whether the criteria include family tradition (we named her after Aunt ____), the sound of the name, or its meaning. There is usually a purpose for the final choice. We surround the giving of the name with ritual – from simple naming ceremonies, to more elaborate christening or baptismal services.

What’s in a name? 

Since those of us who live in the west come mostly from a Judeo-Christian background, it may be helpful to take a brief excursion into these vehicles through which this understanding of names was channeled to us today. The ideas certainly did not originate with these traditions.

Traditionally, when someone was given a name, it denoted an expectation, a destiny upon which the new human being would embark upon. In Biblical times, a change of name heralded a change of destiny. Thus Abram (High Father) is renamed Abraham (the Father of a Multitude); Simon (He has Heard) becomes Peter (the Stone, or the Rock). The change of name resulted in a new way of being seen, a new perspective unfolding.

The writers of the Old Testament understood that naming something gave one power over that which is named. Hence, in the second Creation Legend all the creatures were brought before Adam (Man) so that he could name them. He even gets to name Eve (Mother of All the Living) – which probably accounts for the subordination of women to men throughout history. (This is still quoted today by some religious groups which believe that men should be the ‘head’ of the family).

For this reason, the Hebrews would not give a name to their God because you could not have power over the deity. In the story of the burning bush, Moses is given the understanding of the divine as ‘I AM THAT I AM’ (JHVH -> YHWH -> Yahweh). This is a generic name – not a personal name. After all, they understood that the Divine Name was to be hidden from humanity.

This idea is picked up in the New Testament in the stories of the casting out of demons. When Jesus of Nazareth confronts the demons he demands their name. Once he has their name, they subject themselves to his authority, and are dealt with accordingly. Later, the disciples of the Nazarene, also cast out demons. However, they do not do this in their own name, but ‘in the name of Jesus’, who empowered them to do so, in his name. The link between ‘name’ and ‘authority’ is very clear.

Moving away from these religious traditions, how does the power of naming things affect us today?

We all remember the little ditty, ‘Sticks and Stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me’. We were told to recite this to ourselves and others as a buffer to the emotional pain that was being inflicted upon us.

Of course, it didn’t work. Too many have experienced that, although physical injuries may heal, names that we have been called in the past can continue to haunt us throughout our lives. When little ones tell us that someone is calling them names, we’d better take heed and address the issue as soon as possible.

We often go about our day with cares, concerns, and worries that occupy our minds – sometimes constantly. We fret over issues, incidents in the past, people with whom we interact, what people think of us, what decision we should make, how to put something right etc. While these things remain in our heads, it’s as if they have a power over us. Sometimes, this leads to lack of sleep, stress, or even (in severe circumstances) clinical depression.

When we find that ‘trusted someone’ to talk to about our concerns, we often find that we begin to take control over that which has bothered us for so long. Our problems don’t seem as ‘big’ as they were before we voiced them. Until we speak them, they continue to hold power over us. Once we ‘name’ them, we begin to have power over them, to take ‘authority’ over them.

Maybe the ancient biblical writers, in their wisdom, understood this human truth and they expressed it through the tools of religious imagery that they had at hand.

We may or may not subscribe to those religious traditions today; however, we can certainly embrace the deep insights that have been preserved. It may help us to live life more peacefully and in harmonious authority within ourselves. Maybe it’s time to reclaim the truth of who we really are, which is so much more than our name. 

Happy, Fit, & Free!

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Sunday, 2 March 2014

Meet Our Hero and Inspiration - Derek 'Braveheart' Walton!

 “In order to have a Life of Purpose you need to have a Purpose

 in Life. I am Living with ALS, I am not dying of ALS. After all,

 life itself is terminal.”

I had the privilege to meet Derek Walton back in 2010, when I was invited to join a team of volunteers to organize the SkyDive Fundraising for A.L.S. event that Derek had founded the previous year. As a P.S.W., Mark had been one of his care-givers for several years, but I had not personally met him. 

In May, 2002, Derek was diagnosed with ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease - a rapid, progressive disease that attacks the nervous system and eventually leads to total paralysis.

We were all gathered in the meeting room awaiting Derek and Diane, both of whom I had not yet met. Diane was unwell that evening and so was unable to join us, but as soon as Derek entered in his motorized wheelchair, I knew I was in the presence of a remarkable man. His whole attitude and demeanour totally inspired and uplifted me, and I went home feeling a sense of awe at the courage of the human spirit. 

When I had the honour of meeting Diane at the event itself in August of that year, I felt the same sense of wonder. She is a woman of determination, strength, and tremendous compassion – laced with a wicked sense of humour and a good dose of common sense. It is easy to see why Derek has been able to sustain his positive attitude when he has a person like Diane at his side.

About half of all people affected with ALS live at least three or more years after diagnosis. 20% live five years or more; up to 10% will live more than ten years. The average life expectancy when diagnosed is 2-5 years. Twelve years on, Derek is part of the 10% and, in my opinion, it's his faith and positive attitude, together with Diane's loving support that accounts for the blessing of his longevity. 

It would be easy for Derek to focus upon what he cannot do – and I’m sure that, as this disease progresses, the obvious cannot be ignored. However, Derek has found the secret of focusing upon what he CAN do, and therein lies his strength and ability to inspire others to face the various challenges that are common to us all. He says that, with this diagnosis, he began a journey which has changed his perspective on life and he truly believes that this has made him a better person.

Recently, in 2013, Derek was the recipient of the Sunnybrook Rose Award, which recognizes the exemplary efforts of volunteers for outstanding service in a fundraising capacity. (Read the full article by clicking on the image). 

Four years earlier, in 2009, Derek and Diane were determined to find an original way to raise awareness and funds for ALS research. After thinking outside the box, they came up with the idea of an annual skydiving fundraiser event. Derek, himself, participated in the inaugural event (and in three more events thereafter) by completing a tandem jump and raising pledges. The first event raised an incredible $100,000, and donations to date, together with future committed pledges, are close to $300,000. Derek is no longer able to skydive, himself, but he continues to support the event and he invites anyone with a sense of adventure to take part. Both Mark and I have participated and it was a lot of fun, as well as satisfying to know that we were also contributing to this worthy cause. 

The Rose Award is not the only award that Derek has received. Back in 2012, he received the Queen's Diamond Jubilee medal, reserved for recognising and honouring exceptional Canadians for their contributions to their fellow citizens, communities, and country. It was a humbling experience to witness this achievement. 

As well, Derek has received national recognition by Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, for his fundraising and awareness efforts, and was selected by ALS Canada to represent them at various governmental meetings in Ottawa. Local MP, Patrick Brown, arranged for Derek to meet with the Prime Minister and the Minister of Health, Hon. Leona Aglukkaq.   

Derek is realistic about his condition, but remains positive in his outlook. Recently, he told me that he had been reflecting upon his mortality and the shortness of life that we all have to come to terms with. He added that he is not afraid of the future. This statement alone, told me that he had journeyed through his darkest fears and had arrived at a place of inner peace and tranquility.  

This does not mean that he won’t have moments of anxiety in the future; but it does mean that he has found his compass, and that this will guide him back to the truth of who he really is. His wife, Diane, continues to be a tremendous support as his primary care-giver. With her at his side, Derek will always find the strength to find his way forward. 

A good friend once said to me, ‘If you could see yourself as others see you, you would be so happy!’ It made me realize that none of us are truly aware of the influence we have upon others. The movie, ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’, depicts the main character as being given a chance to see what life would have been like without him. It shows that our choices, through a ripple effect, impact those far beyond our immediate circle of influence.

Derek has been an inspiration to countless people throughout Canada and beyond. His nickname, ‘Braveheart’, is a perfect description of who he really is, and when you get to know him personally you will see that it has been well-earned. There is no courage without fear. There is no victory without challenge. Together, Derek and Diane have met those challenges head on. 

Diane is a tenacious advocate for his well-being, and is tireless in her efforts to ensure
that Derek lives with the highest quality of life possible. (For a glimpse into his life, watch this short slide show). To see her in action is to behold a strong woman who is resolved to uphold the tenet, ‘Let right be done’. She is truly a beautiful person, who blends strength and gentleness into a warm personality, which leaves you with a sense of gratitude for having her in your life. She, too, has had her challenges on this journey and her life has been profoundly changed by this disease. Her courage and determination are a testimony of her character. 

We all have challenges in life – whether seen or unseen. It is how we respond to these challenges that will pave the way for our future life experience. No matter how successful a person may be (or seem to be from our perspective), we tend to see only the glory, not the journey they have undertaken to get to that point. Derek reminds us all that the choices we make will determine how we are going to live. In Derek's words, 

'My glass is half full not half empty........ is yours?'

An online dictionary defines a hero as a man of distinguished courage or ability admired for his brave deeds and noble qualities. 

For Mark and me, Derek incarnates that description and will always be our hero. We thank him from the bottom of our hearts for the continued example and inspiration that he gives to us personally, and to all those who have the honour to meet him. 

Note: Derek has since passed away on January 17th, 2015. He will always be in our hearts.

There is no cure. Donations are needed for continued research.  Please donate here. 
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