Call Me by My True Names

Hello (name),

Over the past twenty-five years, when I’ve been troubled by violence in our world, I’ve visited the work of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh – one of the most revered spiritual leaders in the world today – to help me stay mindful and present to goodness and activism daily.

This is a long blog, and I invite you to read it to the very end. I encourage you to read with an open heart, share with friends and family, and meditate on the meaning for you. 


“After the Vietnam War, many people wrote to us in Plum Village. We received hundreds of letters each week from the refugee camps in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, and the Philippines, hundreds each week. It was very painful to read them, but we had to be in contact. We tried our best to help, but the suffering was enormous, and sometimes we were discouraged. It is said that half the boat people fleeing Vietnam died in the ocean; only half arrived at the shores of Southeast Asia.

There are many young girls, boat people, who were raped by sea pirates. Even though the United Nations and many countries tried to help the government of Thailand prevent that kind of piracy, sea pirates continued to inflict much suffering on the refugees. One day, we received a letter telling us about a young girl on a small boat who was raped by a Thai pirate.

She was only twelve, and she jumped into the ocean and drowned herself.

When you first learn of something like that, you get angry at the pirate. You naturally take the side of the girl. As you look more deeply you will see it differently. If you take the side of the little girl, then it is easy. You only have to take a gun and shoot the pirate. But we can’t do that. In my meditation, I saw that if I had been born in the village of the pirate and raised in the same conditions as he was, I would now be the pirate. There is a great likelihood that I would become a pirate. I can’t condemn myself so easily. In my meditation, I saw that many babies are born along the Gulf of Siam, hundreds every day, and if we educators, social workers, politicians, and others do not do something about the situation, in twenty-five years a number of them will become sea pirates. That is certain. If you or I were born today in those fishing villages, we might become sea pirates in twenty-five years. If you take a gun and shoot the pirate, you shoot all of us, because all of us are to some extent responsible for this state of affairs.

After a long meditation, I wrote this poem. In it, there are three people: the twelve-year-old girl, the pirate, and me. Can we look at each other and recognize ourselves in each other? The title of the poem is “Please Call Me by My True Names,” because I have so many names. When I hear one of these names, I have to say, “Yes.”

Please Call Me by My True Names

Do not say that I’ll depart tomorrow—

even today I am still arriving.

Look deeply: every second I am arriving

to be a bud on a Spring branch,

to be a tiny bird, with still-fragile wings,

learning to sing in my new nest,

to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower,

to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.

I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,

to fear and to hope,

the rhythm of my heart is the birth and death

of all that are alive.

I am the mayfly metamorphosing

on the surface of the river,

and I am the bird which, when Spring comes,

arrives in time to eat the mayfly.

I am a member of the politburo,

with plenty of power in my hands.

And I am the man who has to pay his

“debt of blood” to my people

dying slowly in a forced labor camp.

My joy is like Spring, so warm

it makes flowers bloom all over the Earth.

My pain is like a river of tears,

so vast it fills the four oceans.

Please call me by my true names,

so I can hear all my cries and laughter at once,

so I can see that my joy and pain are one.

Please call me by my true names,

so I can wake up

and so the door of my heart can be left open,

the door of compassion.”

In many countries little girls and boys go to a church, a synagogue or mosque to pray and are met with bombs and guns. I am writing this blog to keep my heart open so I can awaken to new actions.

You can find this poem on Youtube.

Let me hear from you.

© 2019 Bettie J. Spruill, Ideal Coaching Global and Ontological Living, LLC

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Showing 5 comments
  • Susan Moore

    I love this – reminds me that we are all being the best version of ourselves with what we know in any given moment. No one is misbehaving, we know what we know until something new is known through experiential growth and/or educational learning.
    Thank you

  • AnnaMarie Horn

    🍃🌸Sending you love, Betty🌸🍃

  • Evans Kwame Arhin

    My life started when I meet you and your wonderful team back in a village in a Ghana. I am living to the fullest now..
    Thanks and Gof bless you..
    I am following ..

  • JC Beichner

    In having compassion for myself, I have compassion for all. My judgements are suspended as I am only judging myself when I judge others. Beautiful, thank you for sharing such an incredible reminder.

  • M. Stella Arevalo

    I have contemplated this often as I have known and been ashamed of being the descendant of Sicilian pirates maternally and Spaniard pirates on my paternal side. Much generational healing have I done through Constellatiin Healing with Gary Stuart but never have I interpreted myself as one to offer so much self compassion. This makes me think of a different perspective as the great great great grand daughter of those pirates whom without I would not exist and become the teacher I am for so many children. It’s like I was sent to be their protector. When really I’ve been protecting my own self and being the voice for those who are not yet heard. Maybe this is my own voice. I’m eager to contemplate this poem even more. You already know and I affirm to you that I love you ❤️ very much Bettie!

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