When I was a child, I went to Girl Scout Camp for two weeks every summer. I remember wondering, “Will the other kids like me? Will I fit in?” For the most part, I got along fine.
Now, pushing sixty, I still wonder “Will the other kids like me?” But I had no qualms about making friends in India. Even though I didn’t know why I was going – I only had a vague notion about meditation, Gandhi, and kindness – I knew I’d be with the nicest people in the world.
And I was correct. We were thrown into an unparalleled matrix of friendship.
Yet I was unprepared for the level of connection I found with strangers. I didn’t know much about anyone, but I trusted them completely. It was intimacy beyond identity.
This was most visible in my relationships with the volunteers, the people that dedicated many weeks out of their lives to plan, prepare, and serve.
I struggled to identify them, to remember their names. I wanted to be a good guest, respectful of local traditions, a noble ambassador for the U.S. But their names were hard for my American ears. Plus, they had non-sequitur nicknames. I’d meet someone. He’d say, “My name is Neerad, but you can call me Po.”
“Why????” I’d think. “How do you get Po from Neerad???”
One night, I was invited to sing on stage in the Seva café. There were probably about sixty people there. In the true spirit of ServiceSpace, I decided to include a local volunteer, a beautiful woman I met a few days prior. We had talked at length. I found out she could sing. Granted, I couldn’t remember her name, but I knew we could harmonize.
It was time to call her onstage. Embarrassed that I didn’t know her name, I stepped up to the mic and decided to improvise.
I said, “For this next song, I’d like to call up… um… Boom….Boom-chicka….Boom…Boomerang… whatever your name is, c’mon up.” And then to everyone, “I’m sorry, I still don’t know your names…..”
Boom-chicka smiled and said, “You can call me Ginny.”
“Okay, now you’re just messing with me.” I said. “Don’t we already have a Jiggy???”
She replied, “We do. Jignasha.”
“Why don’t you call me Boomie?”
“That’ll work,” I replied.
Then we sang together like old friends.
We reached beyond naming identity into the music of intimacy.
I’ve heard that as soon as you give God a name, you put him/her in a box framed by your own limitations. The same is true for all reality – all people, conditions, and circumstances. Of course, we have to name “the other” to be able to navigate life. But names evoke perception and projection. When we look beyond the identities we project, we find a closer approximation of Absolute Reality -joyful intimacy and unabashed friendship waiting for us to wake up and embrace.
That night in the Seva café, I found a local woman who was both stranger and sister. I found someone who could laugh with me; someone who harmonize literally and figuratively; someone who could love my clumsiness.
This was intimacy beyond identity. Instant friendship. Instant family.
Boomie (Bhumika) and I got to be good friends. We would often sing to each other to the tune of My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean… “Bring back, bring back, oh bring back my Boomie to me, to me…”
Today I smile as I remember. My memories bring back my Boomie to me. I savor our kinship and trust intimacy beyond identity.
How do you name “the other?” How can naming people, or circumstances interfere with Absolute perception? Where can you let go of labels?