Last night, I cooked the comfort food of my young adulthood— short-grain brown rice, carrots, zucchini, scallions, tofu and tamari sauce. Ate by 7 pm October candelight, the pumpkins carved earlier that day lit on the front porch, a Fall feeling in the air that was tangible and touchable and heartwarmingly familiar, a sense of belonging that the news couldn’t touch, the gods in their heavens and all right with the world. All the decades of my blessedly long life converged in that moment, each wholly present and each wholly embraced in a sense of kinship with the 10,000 things of this beautiful world.
When my grandparents arrived at Ellis Island more than a century ago, they might have carried the name Goodkinsky, shortened to Goodkin or perhaps, Goodkind (the version adopted by my Aunt Flo). I’ve never loved saying my name, the harsh consonants of the paired d and k in the middle like sharp stones interrupting some melodic flow. But last night, I thought about “good kin” and extending my sense of connection far beyond my relatives, felt a certain destiny in my inherited name. My Uncle Harold always told me that family and loyalty to family was everything, but failed to mention that our job is to extend that sense of family to include all people and yet further into all animal and plants and even rivers and stones and stars. And indeed, when putting together my 70th birthday slide show and revisiting the photos of so many people I’ve met in my teaching and travels, I felt that satisfaction of feeling akin to such a rich mix of people. All the diverse nationalities, races, religions, economic status, genders, sexual preferences, languages, the whole nine yards of things that people use as an excuse to exclude and dismiss becoming the very fabric of the sense of kinship I cultivated with all of humanity (minus those with the content of character that harms and hurts, though even those somehow having to be included). I now can see my life as my attempt to live up to my name, to see the goodness in my kin and to feel an ever-expanding kinship with all of creation. And then further, taking my Aunt Flo’s version, to myself try to be always one inch more good and one inch more kind until the inches add up to a worthy length.
Had I been named Hill, my life may have been an upbeat battle. Green and either an eco-warrior or a greedy tycoon or jealous lover. White might have left my content with my unearned and harmful privilege, Moore might have found me perpetually dissatisfied, Walker got me into the Himalayas to trek, Baker landing me a job at Tartinnes. And so on. I think I’ll stick with Goodkin.
And your name? And your life?