The Power of Names

tombstones public domain by Benjamin Balazs on flickrA few weeks back, the news related a story that a confederate veteran killed at Shiloh and buried under the wrong name for one hundred fifty-four years will now have that mistake rectified.

Augustus Beckmann was buried under the name “A. Bergman” at Camp Chase Confederate Cemetery in Columbus, Ohio. The descendants of the German immigrant, who fought in the Texas infantry, discovered the mistake while on a visit to the memorial grounds. Thanks to a refreshingly un-bureaucratic government response, a new stone with the correct name will be put in place. It should only take sixty days to fix an error that has lasted a century and a half.

“But why all the bother?” some might ask, for a man who even the descendants knew little of (except for the touching tale that Augustus’s brother fought alongside him at Shiloh and never learned the fate of his sibling). And it’s only a few letters, too: it should be a c instead of an r, and add another n at the end. Close enough, it could be argued, considering how little it all matters now.

And yet, it does matter; supremely. It matters so much that it makes my skin crawl to think of it. I want a follow-up story when the new stone is put in place and a picture of the corrected name on the discreet little white slab, confirming the matter. [Read more…]

There Must Be a Word for This

Summer Country LandNow spring has come again, the season that’s best for hope. Post-Lenten promises are fresh as a baby’s breathing, and the failures that eventually spoil them are as far away as the height of summer’s heat.

Hope can make us believe in endings as well as beginnings, in the idea that we can accomplish the hard tasks of life and see them to the finish.

“It will get done,” says hope, settling a resolve into our hearts. “Despite all, it will get done.”

However, as usual, I get pensive about things coming to a close. When years of labor spent in achieving something are about to meet resolution, there’s part of me that puts on the brakes—not strong enough to stop the momentum, but strong enough to set my mind churning.

“What now?” becomes the question. Achievement ends purpose, and purpose gives meaning. When foundering around for purpose, we can’t help but feel disoriented.

I’ve heard people express what I’m describing along these lines: “Without what I’ve been doing for so long, I expect I’ll be a bit lost.” And that feeling is all the more profound when the end is an event more necessary than relished, more required than sought. [Read more…]

My Wish for My Students

Students pray on lawn at SPU after shooting at the school.Only this I wish for my students: this semester, I hope you will learn to care for each other.

I hope you will learn how to create conditions in which everyone present in the room feels welcome to speak. I hope you will learn how to discern which of two competing voices within you is worth acting on: the voice that cautions you against speaking lest you confirm, for yourself and others, what you suspect, that you are a fool, and the voice that encourages you to trust yourself, that your thoughts, your questions are worthy of being heard by others. [Read more…]

If Necessary, Use Words

As a retort to the old saying that “a New Englander never uses ten words when one will do,” I’ve heard it said that “a Southerner never uses one word when ten will do.”

I’m proof of the latter. I’ve got a big mouth and have gotten into trouble using it for most of my life.

“You sure do talk a lot.”
“You shouldn’t have said that.”
“Why do you ask so many questions?”

These are common observations by my friends from other climes. Every time I go out, I swear to myself that I won’t dominate the dialogue. But I customarily fail before I’ve even taken my coat off. There has never been an awkward silence with me in the house. [Read more…]


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