I have learned in these last 40 weeks, that I am no Adam.
I cannot name someone I do not know. And when will I actually know you?
I have decided to come at this differently. I cannot choose your name, so I will give you someone else’s. I cannot make an identity for you – you will be who you will be. Instead, I will give you something else valuable: the names of your great grandfathers, and with that, my memory of them.
You have likely been born too late to get to know these men yourself.
But you will have their names; you will always have something of them with you. If we’re both as lucky as I hope, you’ll be comforted by the memory of them when you wrestle with who you are.
I have not had the privilege of getting to know James Wesley Dunn for very long, but with some people that is unnecessary. I know enough.
Sometime after I first met your father, your Grandma Dunn told me that her children are who they are (she is convinced) because James Wesley and his wife have prayed every day for her children since their births. Before I met your Great Grandpa Dunn, I learned he was a faithful praying man.
Later I learned that he wasn’t always that way, that he came to that place later in life but never looked back. Perhaps you could say he was a better Grandfather than (young) Father in some ways. But he did not seem to think that it was ever “too late” to be changed.
You will probably hear a lot of other cools things about him, he’s had forests named after him and smuggled bibles under iron curtains, etc.
But please don’t be confused, you are named after him for his prayer life.
It is a simple thing, but not an easy thing. You will not be born knowing how to pray, and you will often not do it even if you do know how. I am still learning. But even if it takes you your whole life, this is what I would want you to know whenever you sign your name: there is nothing more important than learning to talk with God.
He’s also an involved and invested Grandpa, even to me who is a granddaughter “in-law.” He has remembered and asked about and prayed for some of the most difficult things in my life over the last ten years. He’s remembered to pray for things in my life that I forgot to pray for. He stubbornly prays for things I’ve given up praying for.
He is currently struggling to be himself anymore, after suffering multiple strokes. He at times is incoherent or nonsensical, which feels heartbreaking. But I like to think that no matter what he says to those around him, he’s still having the same decades-long Conversation with the person he’s invested in the most. I know that when he does leave the world, he will have endless conversation with Him; it will be some of the sweetest and deepest, because it will be a simple extension of the dialogue he’s been having all these years.
So my dear Wesley, learn to pray, like your Great Grandfather, James Wesley Dunn.
Pinning down the exact reason I wanted to name you after your Great Grandpa Charles Nelson Berry is both easy and impossible.
While middle names are often relegated to “doesn’t really matter” status, you should know that this was the name I knew first, almost immediately.
There is a myth in our culture that men are simple and women are complicated. Your Great Grandpa Berry apparently never heard about it. He is one of the most complex characters I’ve ever met.
His is a story of imperfection and wandering. It’s a story of many regrets and of great intelligence that suffered long to become wisdom. Because of this I grew up hearing about many of his flaws, from both himself and my grandmother. But I never knew this flawed version, only a perfect grandfather. That’s because his story is one of redemption, the painful enduring kind.
While this is all important to understand why he means so much to me, it’s not why I want to give you his name.
What I hope you will know firsthand from him, but carry somehow with you even if you do not get that privilege, is that he asks questions. He has asked me some of the best questions of my life, and still does. He has never allowed my curiosity to sloth. He is (at this time of writing) 79 years old, and still the most curious person I know. He has let neither failure nor success stop him from asking more.
He embraces what he does not know, finds and traces the shape of it, and offers it to others and to God without shame.
Most prefer question-answering to question-asking, but I hope that you, Wesley Charles, will know (as simply as you know your middle name), sometimes what is most overlooked is most important, what is most basic is most powerful.
He is not paralyzed by the questions that seem to have no answer. He does not allow them to stop him from being faithful. But he never stops asking. He has taught me that this is where your relationships with other people find depth. This is where your relationship with God finds genuine peace: to come back to the place of surrender – there is much you do not know.
I’ve never known your Great Grandpa Berry to be embarrassed that he did not know something. His conversations are full of an excitement that there is still so much to be taught and so much to be thought about. When he eventually passes away, I know I will most grieve the loss of his thoughtful questions. And I take comfort knowing he will have endless time with the ultimate Answerer.
Wesley Charles, learn the art of questioning, like your Great Grandfather, Charles Nelson Berry.
You are the child of two language-lovers, so in all the sufferings and triumphs of life, our hope for you is great conversation: that you talk freely with God and share your questions with Him openly. That you know others by their deepest prayers and have the humility to ask them.
That whoever you turn out to be, you will always have Wesley Charles in you.
What a paradox you are, little son:
worthy of everything
but you've yet done nothing.
If I do this right, I will teach you
to chase and still,
rush and pause.
You will climb mountains inside
an imaginatively architected mindscape,
and you will come near quiet waters -
a noisy city's escape.
What a paradox you are, little son:
big in weight,
tiny in ounces.
It is impossible to understate
but the only thing that counts is
one connection, soul
This is my only goal, fragile one:
pursue the wild,
maintain the wait.
Bellow and hush.
Love and hate -
only mind your aim.
This light is the spectrum I had to contemplate
while choosing your name:
the paramount of paradoxes, son...
You came here pre-condemned;
may you beg to be redeemed.
May you be both hemmed
All other voices will demand you attend
their overt energy,
claiming significance with empty noise.
May you instead
find passion inside of poise.
We named you this way
so you would not forget,
one name for a Man of Pursuit
one for a Man of Prayer.
You will embody them, child.
My love to you is bait.
May you chase, with every moment
you have to spare,