Friday, June 5, 2009

The Ministry of Noticing

Twice in the past month, I have had friends repent to me for misspelling my name. Ignore the fact that my parents chose to spell my name in a manner that, unbeknownst to them, is phonetically incorrect, and that "J-E-N-N-A" actually looks a lot better and makes a lot more sense than "J-E-N-A", which the rules of phonics dictate should be pronounced "Gina." Ignore both of these facts, because I digress... Already.

The point is, two of my friends -- one old, one new -- took a moment to notice something that some might think relatively insignificant, but that in fact is quite the opposite. A person's name is important. In Biblical times, parents put a great deal of consideration into chosing names for their heirs. Isaac received his name, meaning "he laughs", after Abraham laughed at the notion of Sarah's miraculous pregnancy. Samuel ("God has heard") was given his name after his mother, Hannah, prayed earnestly and fervently for a child, and was overjoyed that her request had been heard and granted. And, if you need further (extrabiblical) proof that names are significant to a person's identity, just ask Dances with Wolves and Stands with a Fist.

(A side note: my son Jaden's name is from the Hebrew, also meaning "God hears and knows." As for me, my parents initially chose to name me Kelly, like any good Irish baby, which would have given me the legacy of "bright-headed one." Instead, because the name had already been used in the family, I became Jena, "the small bird." So, I didn't have to live up to the expectation of being bright, after all.)

Anyway, the fact that my friends took note of the correct spelling of my name, and then set about being intentional to spell it differently in the future, said something to me. It said that I mattered, and it said that they noticed.

Can we get good and honest for a minute here? We all want to be noticed, to some extent. If it were not so, we wouldn't bother to change our profile pictures or update our statuses on Facebook, now would we? Would we bother at all if we thought no one would take note of it? According to my sister, who on principle very rarely updates her status, there is something inherently narcissistic about Facebook. I think that's stretching it a bit, but if you dial down the drama a few notches and delete the diagnostic code she has just labeled upon us all, I think I can smell what she's cookin'. We want someone to read our stuff, browse our profile, look at our photos. And I don't know about you, but I get a little giddy when one of you pops by my profile and writes on my wall, or sends me some Flair, or gives me a sticker. It means I crossed your mind. It means someone said, in essence, "Hey, I know you're there."

Back in the dark ages, like 2006 or so, some of us used to do crazy things like get in our cars and drive to Target and buy a Hallmark card and write in it - like, real writing, with a pen! Crazy! - and seal it and stamp it and... Phew. Well, I'm exhausted. Thank goodness we've evolved since then. Now with a little click of our mouse, we can let our friends know they crossed our minds. Pretty cool.

So here's my thesis: I believe, being the cock-eyed optimist that I am, that Facebook could start a revolution of "noticing" and acting on it, not only in the virtual world of cyberspace, but maybe even in this concrete jungle that we inhabit when we're not nose-to-screen. If we get used to making comments and writing notes and sending little virtual presents, maybe - just maybe - that senstivity will translate into the real world, where there are people all around us who are desperate to be noticed, desperate for our comments, desperate for confirmation that they matter. They might really need one of these: :) or one of these: <3 or one of these: (((hug))) but in the real world we'll have to use our faces and our arms instead of our keyboards, which will require a bit more effort, so start small if you must. You could always start by spelling their name correctly.

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