Faith’s Name

Over the years, many people have commented on my daughter’s first name. It is generally thought that the serious medical problem she faced at birth was its inspiration. In fact, Faith was named before she was ever conceived. Many people have exclaimed that Faith was a gift from God. This is truer than they would ever know.

Many of you have had the unfortunate experience of learning that someone you loved has been diagnosed with an incurable disease. In 1990, I learned that two people that I loved very much had been given such diagnoses: Mark had AIDS; Sherry had breast cancer. Week after week, I struggled with sadness and grief at the certain outcome of their illnesses. Most often this sadness would hit me at night as I lay in bed.

In that drowsy and contemplative period just before sleep, I kept asking myself: "How can I deal with these two terrible tragedies?" "What can I do?" These questions nagged at me for many evenings. Then one night in 1993, a "voice" came to me in a dream. It announced that it had an answer to these questions: "You answer death with life." A short simple statement — nothing else was said. But the dream-voice also delivered to me the meaning and subtext of the answer. I was supposed to have another child.

So what was this voice that had just spoken to me. Was it God? Was it my unconscious? I thought about this suggestion in my dreams for quite a while. I was intrigued and yet reluctant to embrace this revelation. My son was 9 at the time; who wanted the bother of a baby at this point? And wasn’t I too old to be a father again? Finally one night, I spoke back to the voice. "Okay, let’s say I did take your advice. What name would I give a child that was meant to pay honor to the memory of two people ¾ one a man, the other a woman?" ("That should shut him up for a while" I thought.)

I know this sounds a bit absurd. How do you argue with God ¾ or with your unconscious? But I will tell you that after posing this rejoinder, I slept undisturbed for several months. I thought I was home free. And then one night, the voice came back to me. It had an answer.

The name would be: Faith; that’s all it said. But again the dream delivered the inspiration and meaning of this answer. The source for Faith’s name comes from the Jewish prayer called the Kaddish. This is one of the most important prayers in Judaism, and yet one of the most unusual. It is the prayer of mourning, and yet it does not mention death or grief; the words speak only of the glory of God. The prayer is not meant to be read when you are alone, but when you are surrounded by family and friends. At a time when grief and anger with God are foremost on your mind, the Kaddish calls you back to life by reuniting you with your religion and with your community. So the balm to my bereavement was to be faith. When Marilyn announced to me a few months later that she was pregnant, I was amazed and delighted. I told her: "If it’s a girl, I have a name."

Now do not think for a minute that the irony of this story has escaped me. Like Mark and Sherry, my child was given a terminal diagnosis. This time, I have witnessed every aspect of the illness. The balm to my grief is now my source of bereavement.

So again I have stayed awake, night after night, trying to figure out what my reaction to all of this should be. I have had no dreams. No voice has come to answer my question. Here is what I’ve decided for myself: