It was a simple question. As they walked down the hall hand-in-hand in our school this week, little Zephan asked Ben, a visiting seminarian from Hungary, how Ben spelled his father’s name. Ben gently replied, “My father’s name is Tamás. He spells it T-a-m-á-s.” Then Ben asked the same question to Zephan, “How do you spell your father’s name?” to which Zephan replied, “I spell it D-a-d.”
It was easy to see that the moment touched Ben as he related it to me later. The effect on me was the same. Profound. But why? I grappled with that thought the rest of the day and now as I sit in the twilight, I’ll attempt to put to words why the moment held such meaning.
Little Zephan, this blonde preschool boy. This boy who looks at life at face value and is always anxious to tell us what is amazing about the moment. This boy’s first question to Ben was how he spelled his father’s name. Wrapped up in that question was the statement of belonging. D-a-d was one of the utmost important persons in Zephan’s life. (I later asked him how he spelled his mother’s name, to which he replied, “M-o-m.”😊) If Zephan could analyze the question more deeply, could he have concluded that the question to Ben really meant, “To whom do you belong?” In the youngness of his years, he truly believes that he spells his dad’s name, D-a-d.” He undoubtedly knows that his father’s name is really Nick or his mom’s name is really Anna. But in Zephn’s world, those names are irrelevant. All that is important to him is that their name is Dad or Mom, those to whom he belongs, his anchors in life.
This week I had the opportunity to speak to a Wartburg club of public relation/communication majors on professionalism and my career path. I shared with them that we are born with two instincts; one is the ability to suck…for nourishment, the other is the need to belong…for nourishment. Without knowing it, Zephan could have been asking Ben, “From where or whom do you get your nourishment in life?” So, I ask you, Reader, where DO you get your nourishment in life? It’s a question I ponder frequently as I prepare to embark on the path leading to retirement. My days are filled with belonging…belonging to a school filled with such purpose, nourishing me every day. Belonging to the lives of these children who I love to the depths of my soul. Belonging to a staff that I will carry in my heart forever. Belonging. How do we replace that when our journey takes us in a new direction? How do we find a source of nourishment for our soul?
No matter what our position in life, it is often good to stop and take notice and ask ourselves, from where do we get the nourishment that feeds our soul, that gives us purpose, that makes us look forward to something in life. It need not be grandiose or amazing. It can be a group of like-minded or not so like-minded friends with whom you regularly meet and solve the problems of the world. It can be finding the joy and anticipation of learning through reading or exploring or trying something new. Purpose and belonging come in many forms. When it is absent, it is up to us to seek it. Just as one crawls across the desert for water, we must bear the responsibility to find where and to whom we belong. From whom or what we get our nourishment in life. For me, nourishment in my next journey will include taking care of my family…our children, my mother. It will include teaching grad students again, writing, and learning. Wherever our journey for nourishment takes us, we go it not alone. For guidance comes to us by a God who takes hold of our hand as we walk along. A God who captures our fears, our longing, our questions, and satisfies us, giving us strength and courage. A God whose name is spelled, G-O-D.