Names help define who we are

Published 12:55 am Wednesday, October 22, 2008

As soon as we come into this world we start collecting names, labels that people give us to identify us. We are first a baby, someone’s son or daughter and maybe a brother or a sister as well. We are grandchildren, nieces, nephews and cousins.

With the widening of our circle the name becomes friend, classmate, and student. Then some of us become wives and husbands, mothers, fathers and finally grandparents.

In the bigger world outside of family, the jobs we hold determine the names. Everything from co-worker to boss might be our label. Then there are the specific titles — teacher, doctor, nurse, plumber, carpenter, policeman — and the list goes on and one.

This weekend, when a man I called uncle passed from this life, I thought about our many names and how they define us in the world. Lots of people knew my uncle in different roles during his years on this earth.

For a number of folks in Milton, Fla., he was a coach and an educator, known for his years teaching and coaching at Milton High School. Dedicated member is how his church family knows him.

Those who lived near him knew him as the neighbor always willing to lend a helping hand. He was the friend they counted on.

He was a brother-in-law who was probably more brother than in-law.

And, to my children he was the great uncle they described as being happy, laughing and fun. He was a younger brother to my mother, the one he called “Sib” for short and with whom he had a running joke about birthday phone calls. He was big brother to my Uncle Bill, who also chose education as his life’s calling. And he was the caring brother sharing in the grief when his other brother, Paul, died a while back

He was the beloved grandfather to his grandchildren and of course, to his two children he was Daddy. Both of them inherited his sense of humor and his ability to make you smile just by being around them, a wonderful testament to the loving father who raised and cared for them.

Perhaps, the name he enjoyed having the most was husband. He and my Aunt Sue remained as much in love after years together as they were at the start of their marriage and that was apparent to everyone who knew them.

He was her best friend and she was his. It was great to be with them because the way they interacted made you comfortable and you knew you were with two people who really loved each other.

To me, he was Uncle Johnny, and when I close my eyes I see his crooked smile and hear him laughing as he tells some story. His eyes, so much like my mother’s, sparkled with life and the joy of being. That was one of the things I liked so much about him — the way he enjoyed living.

Yes, I thought about the names we acquire as we pass through this world. They are how we describe our roles and how people recognize us, but I realized names, at least the ones we have on this earth, don’t really tell our story or describe our place in the big picture of forever.

All of us who knew John Allen Helms had our special name for him, recognize him for what he meant to our lives. But he has an identity far greater than any of his earthly names.

In the place where his spirit now resides, where we will all someday reside, “child of the Creator” is his name and he is a soul that at last has returned home to dwell in eternity with the God he loved and served so well while he lived.