In Huna, I've learned, names determine the owner's nature and destiny. You ask your basic self to talk to you, to tell you what its name is. In the hush of orange-tree shadow, mine says loki—lake or pool, or what is within. I'm happy with that, remembering the introspective fishponds. But then a day or two later another, small but more insistent voice surprises me. Belle, it says. And says again, louder, willful as ever.
My own name, then, come claiming me. The hidden middle. The name of my father's mother, the name of her daughter, my aunt, the name of the child I was, cherished and safe in lamplight, in Navajo country, the northern Arizona mountains, in first morning, the lighted darkness of journeys' beginnings, with the smell of bacon and the gentle sweetness of honey wrapped all around the spoon as if belonging to it utterly.
I want her back, the innocent being it named.
It embarrassed me much of my life, that unacknowledged name, because it can so easily be taken wrong, be made to mock; because it carries overtones and baggage. I've refused to let any but my most trusted friends know it. I've been ashamed of it, as of my too-short bangs and funny teeth and ears that stick out. It's been down-home when I wanted to be uptown; down south instead of someplace I would rather be. It's been too soft, I think, too gentle—a vulnerable creature of a more forgiving time.
But I now understand it fits so perfectly, after all. This keepsake of my father's family, of which I have no others, is first a precious hand-me-down, chosen with love by my parents. But it's an older legacy as well, a gift—if inadvertent—from another tongue. It tells of the France I have travelled happily, the language which has opened worlds I couldn't have imagined. But it's not just any word from French, somehow transmuted to become our own, we fortunate three (like muses or graces), but the single word which tells of what it is I've made my lifelong quest, of what has come to be my vocation, beyond everything: belle. What is beautiful.
Or, lovely—the word I use most. Fine, too. And calm, of the sea.
La Belle au bois dormant is Sleeping Beauty. That I've been as well, enchanted in the tangle of branches grown up around me, keeping me apart.
Such beauty there has been, child. The green-hearted fishponds—remember? The luscious, revelatory colors of Pierre Bonnard; a tart of windfall apricots burnt gently on the top; a cathedral at first morning, or an ancient stadium above Delphi; a resonant hymn; a black dog with joy in every bone; an herb in a monastic garden: clary, sage, or rue; words in the spacious slow-paced old Venetian fonts; Puccini on a summer hillside, and, indoors, a little measured Bach; a high bird cage on a lake, and next to it the time-worn lines of an old woman's amused face; stone temples, lines of poetry, black islands; a sheath of milk-white orchids carried out to sea; the ink called sepia; the Paris bridges; a dozen kinds of vongole with delicate transluscent shells; alum crystals forming around string, and pieces of glass angled to catch stars; the caldera of a volcano, underfoot; Ethiopian spices; Aunt Terry's intricate leis; my mother's spirit; seeds, green bark, and silver-backed leaves; an irridescent flurry of peacocks; a single white heron; a secret, a lessening, a way of going forward.
All this is, after all, in me. Of me. Inextricable. Bound by the telling name that defines me, in spite of my early embarrassed squirmings under it.
I had resisted my name; and it came back to me in the silence of Huna. I felt it in me like a small child standing in a doorway. Awakened from sleep, trailing a blanket, coming into a lighted, laughing room, full of all the people she loved best. Wistful, plaintive, forgotten. The neglected beauty of the sleeping woods, kissed, welcomed back in.
My name is mine again, and everything that is beautiful.
To be worthy of it, and of those others who have trusted me to be—that is my daunting legacy and destiny.
(from "Island of Spirits and Kings")