Summer in Thailand is monsoon season, but even as the sun sets, the air remains sticky and heavy, and the sun-bathed ground warms the soles of my bare feet. I lace my fingers together to keep from reaching for my mother. She would hold my hand if I ask, but I don’t.
The room before us houses a sea of unfamiliar, foreign people sitting on the floor, legs crossed, wide-eyed. Upbeat music begins to play. I do not know this song. When the words begin, I do not know the language. But I recognize the phonetics, and in Thai, the lyrics say, “What is your name?” The song fills the room, draws people to their feet.
A child I have never met takes both of my hands, smiling. “Koon-cheu-a-rai?” the song repeats, and she sings this to me as the world around us dances. My hands are grasped again, and to the swelling of music and color, I am asked for my name. I find the words to answer and ask for hers in return. We do not share the same words, but we exchange them anyway, offered in open hands, accepted as small treasures. We have a set of syllables to call each other, little fragments of ourselves bared to the light in cupped hands.
My name is Ashley, but my Korean name is In-Nae. It is a strange name, both in English and in Korean, so no matter where I go, my Korean name elicits puzzled looks. Korean speakers ask me if I have made a mistake. About my own name? In poor taste, a P.E. teacher once called me “Nae-Nae.” I swallowed my tears and wondered how a joke could feel so shameful. I have hated my Korean name, tried to hide it, asked my mother why she named me something so abnormal. She responded by reminding me that In-Nae means patience.
To me, patience means smiling and explaining the meaning of my strange and unique name. It means speaking louder, repeatedly, over the steady throb of music, when asked multiple times. And it means more than that, too: describing my experience as an Asian American, listening when other minorities raise their voices, assuming the best before resorting to fear or anger. I have learned to approach the big issues of polarization and division by examining the issues of my own heart, of choosing gentleness before judgment and self-control before anger.
My understanding of what it means to be more than one thing―to be “both/and” instead of “either/or”―leads me to write. I do not want to live in a nation polarized on important issues, so I lead an independent political news site to promote truth as a foundation for productive discussion. Our core principles revolve around nonpartisanship and neutrality. I know, however, that the whole truth is elusive and difficult to seek, so I wear my name as a mark of who I am―patience.
Patience cares about the humanity in all of us. In the middle of a song, it grasps the hands of another, makes eye contact, and shares a piece of itself with a stranger. It cannot be indifferent. Patience must lean in, quiet its voice, and ask first, before anything else, “What is your name?”