by Nicholas P. Snoek
It's early in the morning, still dark. All the Spiets family is up and about, getting dressed and ready to go. Soon they gather out in front of the store, waiting for the bus. The neighbors on both sides, bakers and confectioners, are at their windows saying goodbye, and wishing the adventurers good luck.
And off they go!
First, an all day charter bus ride through Nederland, through Belgium, and on to Paris, France. Jack has never been in Belgium or France. As the trip progresses, he's disappointed there's no opportunity to speak the language. Everything is handled by travel officials, and none of the passengers is required to say a word.
Mom arranges to sit beside Jack. Dad is keeping an eye on the other kids. Jack wonders what's coming now.
"Jack, we haven't had a chance to do anything about adopting you. So now, in order to travel without trouble, we're using Viktor's identification papers as if they are yours. Do you understand?"
"Oh, you mean the same way as when we came from Bhutan?"
"That's right. But there's a little more to it now. On this trip, if anyone asks, say your real name is Viktor. That you're just using the name `Jack'. And you were born in Holland, 21 August 1937. Can you remember that?"
"August? Okay, I'll try. It's going to seem very strange. You want me to pretend to be Viktor, right? That's weird."
"You don't have to understand it, Jack. Just do it, okay? It'll make things a lot simpler for everybody. For official purposes, you're going to be Viktor. You can use the name Jack, that's alright. Even when we register you in school in B.C. you'll be registered as Viktor. There would be less chance you might make a mistake if you start thinking that way now."
"But when I register at school, what grade should I be in? Viktor was almost three years older than I am."
"I don't know. Let's talk about that later, shall we?"
What's going to be different later? Why not now?
The family arrives in Paris in the evening. Dinner is in a hotel restaurant, the first of many at which bread is served with an otherwise hot meal -- a puzzle to the Spiets children. They're used to bread at breakfast, and perhaps lunch, but never with a hot evening meal.
The adults go out to look at the city, and the kids are put to bed early.
It's warm here.
Jack lies awake most of the night.
I resent being shuffled off to bed like a little kid. I know I can't really expect to be allowed to go see the city, but it would have been interesting to hang around the front of the hotel, to watch and listen to the people, and maybe see if I can understand them when they're talking French.
My visit to Paris is going to be pretty skimpy.
I wonder what it'll be like to float upon the ocean. Nothing but water all around, as far as you can see. Miles and miles and miles of water. Just water and sky.
Something like it was in the airplane, coming to Holland, but then the water was so far below, it just looked like another sky, an upside down sky below the airplane sky. This time I get to float, on that upside down sky. In a huge ship, as big as a dzong. So big you can get lost on it.
Strange. Getting lost on something you're using to travel, something moving. That's a weird idea. How could anything moving be that big. And how could it float? It must be enormously heavy! Where would all the stuff come from to build something like that?
And how could they tie it all together, and make it all fit? Where would they do it? It would be awfully complicated.
Could one adult super Jack be in charge of that? Or one Viktor? Probably a person like Mr Van Daam would be doing stuff like that.
My Name Again
Now, what about this Jack and Viktor thing?
Am I about to be a borrowed person?
With all the complications I've endured
To learn to be a Jack, to make of Jack
A something real and mine, a person with
A certain character, a personality;
And now I have to learn to really be
I must pretend that my pretence
To be a Jack was all a waste of time,
A once upon a time idea, a passing fancy
In the mind of once upon a time a monk,
Who thought I might appropriately be Jack?
The powers that run my life have deemed it fit
That I must re-become, that I must start
Again, must put into a melting pot the
Bits and pieces of myself that I
Can find to call my own, and make of them
A new and phoenix creature labelled Viktor.
Imagine that! And how am I to tie
This all together? If ever I should find
Myself, my very me, how will I know it?
What who, what how, what what would my self be?
What is there to attach it to?
What core, what root,
What center deep down darkest thing is me?
Lord God of Hosts, please show to me, just who
I really am, or who I really should be.
I'd like to know, just who on earth am I?
And who on earth should I become?
The train ride to Le Havre is a quiet ride, through gently rolling country dotted with small farms and orchards. Jack admires the neat little market gardens, and is surprised that here, with all this practically flat land, the lots are so small. He would have thought where there's no need for terracing imposed by sloping hillsides, farms would be much larger.
He is intrigued with the Seine, and with the shipping visible now and then from the train windows on the left. So many ships and boats, all different styles and sizes. Some are like castles, and then there's swarms of little tugs, rowboats, and canoes. As they get farther out, there are more and more sailboats, with beautiful bright sails looking almost stationary on the distant water. Such bright colors.
The port is disappointing. He had expected neat and clean buildings all spic and span. But what they taxi through is a chaotic assortment of sooty smelly and rusty structures, with clanking equipment, creaking cranes and dinosaur hoists swaying and squealing over the nervous travellers, as if to warn them off, so they'll change their minds about this foolish venture.
When they get to shipside however, things look a bit more promising. The Cunard liner is huge, big as a dzong, and just as clean and white. The name Ascania sounds Latin or Italian. It seems odd to put that one little tiny name on this monstrosity.
Up close like this it almost looks like another one of the warehouses farther down the pier, lying moored so absolutely still. The customs buildings are more like the modern facilities Jack had imagined.
He's a little worried that some official might ask him about his name being Jack or Viktor, but no one says a word to him. The children are treated pretty much the same way as the baggage, responsibility extensions of the parents.
Jack, thinking back to Bhutan with its fiercely independent peasant warriors, whose children learn quite young to think for themselves and to take an active part in family affairs, finds being treated more or less as chattels of the parents quite irritating. He's not a baby, he's not an idiot. And he's certainly not a suitcase!
But his attention is soon engaged with the boarding itself. They are herded down several hallways and through a covered walkway that sways a little, like the hanging bridges he remembers in his native mountain home. And there they are! On board!
The die is cast. The traffic is all one way here, there is no going back. Walking into a floating dzong, imagine that!
A sailor looking uniformed young man directs them to the dining room, for lunch. The place settings are just like in the hotel, very neat and formal. With a bun beside each plate, and a slim vase that sports a single simple tight red rose.
The family sits down, and, there being little else to do, they watch other passengers taking over other tables. There seems to be no food around, and no waiters or waitresses in evidence either. Jack wonders if they have come to the wrong spot somehow. The children play with the buns, crumbling them up, spreading the butter tabs on both halves, and looking for jam or syrup to put on them.
All of a sudden they start to feel a bit queasy, and they can't find any reason why. But then they see, through a window port, that the ship is moving! Just a tiny bit!
But how could that insignificant motion cause this feeling? Jack has just taken a bite of his bun, but suddenly he has no appetite. And none of the others do, either. Except Mom. She's the only one who's not seasick!
And so it is, for the whole week's passage. Dad and all the kids are motion sick from the time the ship starts to move until they alight in Halifax.
The only relief is to stay horizontal. In the morning, weather permitting, they stagger in stages onto the deck, to claim a deckchair, and there they stay the whole day. Mom brings them food, either on deck or in their cabins.
There is entertainment available. Movies and dancing, all sorts of games. Mom is having the time of her life! The rest of them can only watch her and other paragons immune, special beings, creatures blessed in some way. And it makes them feel even worse.
Dad has brought a wind-up gramophone, with English lesson records. Long hours on the gray waters, listening to the mechanical English accent English voice zombying out the stilted vacuities of polite discourse.
But there is some relief. Jack befriends a Dutch girl, Dora, who's going to Canada with her family. An only child, she wears thick glasses, with dark brown rims. He thinks a lighter frame would suit her round face better. Her hair is an ash blond, and she is very large for her age. She's a little older than he is, but they get along well. She likes to play coy, not admitting she likes him. But he doesn't mind that. They'll soon be going in different directions, after docking.
He gets a chance to work on his French with a very pretty lady who always seems eager to talk to him. Dad enjoys that little spectacle, and urges Jack to say "Je t'aime." to her. But Jack doesn't want to jeopardize a delicate friendship with such an inappropriate remark.
There isn't much to fill his day, so he has time to think. He sleeps a lot.
/// "Hello, Jack."
"What? Hello." Mumbling, Jack tries to figure out where he is, and who is the fine lady speaking to him.
He's standing on grass, it looks like a lawn, and there are trees spaced round. It must be a park of some sort. Some fifteen feet away a young woman with long dark hair, wearing a simple pastel blue flowing dress, a bit like a sarong, is looking at him, smiling brightly.
"Where am I? And who are you?"
"Relax, Jack. You're going to take a little walk with me, and we'll talk about some things you've been worrying about. Alright?"
She turns and Jack, catching up, follows her. For several minutes they walk along, looking at the trees and the sky. There are some buildings farther up to the left, but Jack cannot make out much detail. There's no one else around.
"Can you tell me who you are? Or what I should call you?"
"If I give you a name to call me by, will you be more comfortable talking to me?"
"I guess so."
"Why is that, you think. Would knowing my name give you the feeling you've gone partway to knowing me, or something about me? And that would put you more at ease?"
"But what if I gave you a wrong name? What if my name were Susan, and I told you that it's Jane."
"But that would be a lie, why would you do that."
"Yes. But if only I knew it was a lie it wouldn't be your problem, just mine, and you would have the benefit of a name even though it was the wrong one. You would have that greater comfort but just without a well-based reason."
"Are you telling me your name doesn't matter?"
"Not exactly. So you can call me Deborah.
Now, you know a name is a symbol. A word symbol. And it's used in two ways; a public-objective, and a private-subjective way. The first way is an outward reference, which serves to identify or set apart a particular person from other persons; something like an address, or a serial number. A device to mark off the person from the background array of other persons.
Several features are useful in doing this. For instance, bodies. A certain body, say around six feet and 165 pounds with blond hair and blue-green eyes, having a definite physiognomic and postural aspect, which we cannot fully describe in words but we can recognize as uniquely different from others, would, with fair certainty, accompany a pointing or referring use of the symbol Jack.
Think of it as a way of isolating the organism.
Another one would be the source or background associated with that referring, like being the son of Mr and Mrs Spiets, or living in the dwelling behind and above the meat shop by the canal at the Dennenlaan in Zwanenburg. That could be used. First to refer to Viktor and later to refer to Jack.
Do you understand?"
"Yes, I think so, but I don't understand how you know all that about me."
"We'll discuss that later, alright? I just know, trust me. Are you clear on the public use of personal names?"
"Yes, but that is the one way, what about the other way, the personal one?"
"Okay. The second way we use a name is to ourselves. As a child starts to become aware, it begins to realize it is a center, a focal point of actions, attentions, and reactions. It learns that doing an action has an effect, and sometimes in turn the effect comes back to itself in the form of some reaction. It cries, for instance, and someone comes to see what's wrong.
Now, a mother knows that using pronouns, such as "you, I, he" would be confusing, because a pronoun can refer to one person at one time and another the next. She knows her baby cannot yet keep track of changing concepts. So she gets around that by using the child's name in a basic or simplistic third person; she seldom says `you' or `I' in talking with her baby.
She will typically use the child's name instead, saying things like "Tyler hungry? Tyler wants a bottle now? Come on Tyler, give mommy a smile!" So her child comes to think of itself, of this center of things, as Tyler. And eventually, as it develops the concept of self, that concept will be associated with the symbol Tyler. But any other name would do as well, so the correctness or not of a name is only a question of context.
Do you see then, Jack, how the second use of a name works?"
"In a subjective use, it gives a point of attachment for our self-image?"
"Well, not exactly. A self-image is something else again, it's more a particular way of seeing one's self, a reflected appraisal, or a goal for what we wish to become. The concept of self per se is a little different.
Yourself is who you are, other than the address I spoke about. It is the part of you that stays you as your body changes, as your address changes, and even as your name changes.
For instance a young lady, Deborah Smith, may have a name change when she marries, so she is Deborah Jones; or she could have a nickname Red, in her infancy or in her teens, and the nickname might last for only a couple of years. But she would be the same self to herself throughout all those name changes. The actual name matters very little as long as she has a good hold on who she is, as a self. Do you understand?
Now take your name. You must agree that whether you're called Jack, Jacko, Jack Migo, Jack Schuurman, Jack Spiets, or Viktor Spiets, does not affect your self. You are who you are by virtue of your inner sense of self, and whichever name is used by you or by others has little effect on that sense of self. Okay?
Now, your infancy was quite different from that of most babies. You didn't have a mother teaching you your self, and the monks did not have that intuitive grasp of what was needed, you see. They had a tendency to regard you as a tiny little monk, not able to talk yet, but only needing time to make that come out right. So it took a long time for you to learn to build your self, and when you started doing that it was not fixed and firm the way it should have been. That's why it's always been a problem for you."
Jack ponders this a while. She's right. A particular name is not essential. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.
She's a little shorter than he is. Her eyes are intensely blue. He wonders what would happen if he touched her.
"I think I understand what you're telling me. And it's a relief to realize that I've been worrying and fretting over nothing. But now I'm not clear on what we were talking about before, when we started."
"Which part do you mean?"
"If I know your name, I have a feeling that I know you or at least something about you. And I would have that feeling even if you gave me a wrong name, and that feeling would actually be wrong somehow. How does that fit together?"
They've come to a small roofed over space in which there are several tables. The nearest one has a transparent top, and there's a small box sitting on it.
"Let's sit here a while, alright? I'd like to show you something." She sits down and, taking the box and opening it, sets out some pyramid tokens on the table top. There are seven reds and seven blues.
Pushing the reds towards Jack, she smiles, "Here Jack, you're red. And I'm blue."
Sitting closer, Jack murmurs "Yes, you are."
"Now, I'll put this small crystal ball in that little depression in front of you, and this one in front of me, and with these," setting seven short red cylinders before Jack, and blue ones on her side, "you can reach under the table top and try to get your red tokens to move your crystal and thus bring it over towards the middle of the table, and into that little hole. And I'll be doing the same with mine. Okay? Any questions?"
"Yes. Why are we doing this, and how can I move anything on the table when my hand is underneath it?"
"I'll explain some of the reasons later. Now, to learn how to move these tokens just take a cylinder and try it and you'll soon see how it works. We'll just play with it a few minutes to get the feel of it."
Jack grabs the first cylinder and moves it around under the glass in the proximity of his tokens. One of them moves a little, but when the cylinder is right beneath it, it stops. As he moves it away, the token starts to move too, faster for a greater distance, and slower for a small, as if there were an elastic connecting them. He notes that if he moves the cylinder too far, the token overshoots the position of his hand, and then stops, not coming back until he moves the cylinder over to it and reattaches the bond.
"This is weird. It's like elastic, but also like magnets. If I tip the cylinder, there seems to be no connection at all, and I have to lock onto the token to make anything happen."
"You're getting the idea, Jack. You should know too, that each cylinder will only work with one particular token, and also, if a token touches any of these darker areas, it will stop dead and won't respond anymore. If your ball stops on one of those you cannot get it off; it's the end of the game. Do you think you're ready to start?"
"I'd like to know what happens if I get that ball over there. And could it roll off the table?"
"There's a small rim around the table, so the ball won't roll off. If you get your ball into the middle it may show you some pictures."
"Okay. But how can it show me anything? It's just a piece of glass, isn't it?"
"Kind of. You might see pictures glowing inside of it."
"Oh, like the crystal ball with fortune tellers? Are you a medium?"
"I hope to be a medium to your mental and spiritual growth, Jack. But no, I'm not a medium as you think of them."
"Oh. You seem to be psychic, though."
Setting all the pieces back to their starting positions, she smiles at him, "Alright, let's go."
Jack pitches right in and soon has his little ball rolling along just fine. Fortunately, the ball stops readily when not actually being impelled. It's very tricky to get the pyramid token to align in such a way that one side of it will move the ball in the right direction. His control of the movement improves as he nears the center, but soon he is skirting around amongst more and more black areas, and bingo! he loses one token.
He rushes and tries to move another token but when he gets no response, he realizes he needs another cylinder. And off he goes again, with a new cylinder and another token. But this time he inadvertently pushes his crystal ball into a dark area!
Now all he can do is watch his partner, just finishing her play, as she handily tips her ball into the middle.
The little ball starts to glow with a soft light. Jack jumps up and stands behind her, peering intently at the crystal.
"I don't see any pictures."
Abstractedly, "No Jack, you cannot see the pictures. They are for me to see."
In a minute or two, the light fades. "There. That's it." And she puts everything back.
"What did you see?"
"Some pictures of my life. They wouldn't mean anything to you. Let's go."
Jack follows along. "Okay, what was that all about?"
"It's a game, Jack, a game that teaches."
"What is it supposed to teach?"
"That depends quite a lot on the person playing. For now, think back on what we were talking about. You were asking about the connection between the way names are used, and the feeling of comfort we get when we know someone's name."
"Oh, right. Okay, how does it work?"
"There's two ways to approach that. First, think about what frightens people most, aside from immediate inborn things like fear of falling or loud noises. I think you'll agree it's the fear of loss of self, of unreality, or loss of identity; and people associate that with mental illness, with brain injury, and with illusion and hallucination.
You've heard me several times say something about the hold we have on our sense of self. The game we just played partly illustrates the difficulty.
Your mind stands in relation to your body as your hand does to the tokens; there is a connection, but it's not an absolute correlation. You may have noticed, your efforts to control the tokens were more effective when you didn't stop to analyze what was happening too much, and just imagined your way along. It's a good analogy of how we run our bodies. We image forth the desired result, and the body-brain machinery executes our wishing thought.
Philosophers have realized that the connection between the mind and the body is not direct, in either direction. When you try to learn a new skill you can see that. It works best when you imagine it working: imaging the right action sequence is the most suitable body-brain teaching device because it most closely follows the way we usually influence our physical side.
We know that in spite of our habit of treating our body as being us, it is not so. Our us, our self, is a second-order concept, one step removed from the body. So it's not surprising that our hold on the self can be so easily impaired; the self in this use is just an idea, a convenient and useful fiction.
Now since there is that close association between the self and the name it attaches to, people naturally feel that if they have hold of the name, they have a sort of hold of the person or the self. So they feel more comfortable if names are firmly fixed, for themselves as well as for others."
"Okay, and what's the other way?"
"The other way has to do with control as well. And it comes from the greater ease with which we can manipulate, handle, or deal with a concept by fixing it with a name. Notice they are physical terms that come to mind -- manipulate, and handle -- they are metaphors for what we picture ourselves doing in our mind-space.
We isolate and freeze for our analytical attention the idea we try to focus on; we put a name on it to hold it. To control it, so we can focus the microscope of thought.
Just consider the alternative. When you met me and we started to talk, you were faced with the problem of thinking about me in some way, so you probably came up with something like `the strange lady with long dark hair and the flowing blue dress'... and that is a cumbersome expression. We prefer to think with simpler tokens, like `Deborah.' Don't we?
As Shakespeare aptly put it, we give to airy nothing a local habitation and a name.
So in both ways, and for both reasons, you wanted my name."
"I guess so. But you're not an airy nothing."
Smiling, "No?" \\\
Jack is lying in his bunk. It's early morning, and he's surprised he hasn't slept longer, but he feels refreshed and well rested. He lies there, thinking about being here in place of Viktor, and suddenly he makes a decision: he is going to be Victor or Vick. Everyone should call him that from now on. He will adopt a new identity for his life in Canada.
He tells the whole family, one by one, "Please call me Vick," and he repeats it each time he is called Jack, from that day forward.