PSR alum finds happiness in Nepalese orphanage

February 11, 2010

Felicity Wright in a Nepalese orphanageLast summer and fall, after a tumultuous period in her career and finances, Felicity Wright (MDiv 2003) felt anything but happy. “I had a bad case of the blues,” she remembers. When the opportunity arose to visit Nepal with a friend, Carla Friedrich (MDiv 2005)—also a PSR graduate—it turned out to be a way to reclaim her peace of mind.

Wright spent three weeks in the mountainous country, volunteering in two orphanages. She played games, read stories, and ate meals on the floor with the children, and she taught all in attendance how to play music on the comb. In short, she shared the commonplace activities of normal life with children who had been left alone in the world.

Through their eyes, Wright was remade in a more joyous light, as the following blog post shows: “The children there have an incredible yearning to make the world a happier place, to be agents of change, to improve the world,” Wright says. “It’s humbling and inspiring to witness that, and it’s hard not to be happy to think that there are these things happening that will make for a better world.”

The following is a selection from Wright’s blog, reprinted with her permission. To read this and other entries about Nepal, visit http://felicitywright.com/blog/.

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“On being Aunt Happy” by Felicity Wright

I am one of the privileged ones who entered this world with many advantages, of which the first and best is my name. Many people have horrific names that stick with them like a curse; but mine is a talisman, a peace offering, a blessing, both within me and to those around me. I can take no credit for it except to try to live up to the challenge it offers. But it is hard to be churlish when one has a name like Felicity. And so I’ve always been curious about how we choose names and whether the name creates the identity, or vice versa.

Names play an important part in the Bible, and people change names when they change identities. Abram becomes Abraham; Sarai becomes Sarah; Jacob becomes Israel; Simon becomes Peter; Saul becomes Paul. Whenever someone has a radical transformation in identity or mission, he or she has a name change. Biblical name changes indicate a new covenant between that individual and God. Something fundamental is altered in the promise between God and that man or woman (as in the three Hebrew Bible characters), or the promise between him and Jesus (as in the case of Peter and Paul). The new name symbolizes commitment. Baptism, as the first sacrament in the life of a Christian, is in fact a naming ceremony.

In Nepal last month, I was intrigued that one of the children changed his name from “Vishnu” to “Nick” shortly after coming to live at New Life Children’s Home. Was it because being “Vishnu” (the “all-pervasive” Hindu god who is expected to recognize and counteract evil influences in all its guises) was too burdensome? Or did he change his name along with his cultural identity when he acknowledged his new American father? Was “Nick” just cute (I affectionately called him “slick Nick” because of his theatrical flair) or was it connected with St. Nicholas?

I never asked his reasons for changing his name. (It seemed too personal.) But as I heard the story of his life before and after coming to New Life, it was clear that there were two children: Vishnu (who could remember nothing of his early childhood other than filth, stench, hunger, and homelessness) and Nick (who was happy, sensitive, playful, enthusiastic, and tender.)

And he isn’t the only one with a name change. Within an hour of coming to New Life, the children had given me a new name. Like the others, I would be called “Auntie” or “Uncle,” for this is the Nepali way for showing respect for elders while also acknowledging us as close enough to be extended family. In our case, there was “Auntie Carla,” “Auntie Kymri,” “Auntie Kalar,” and “Uncle Brett.” But “Felicity” had too many syllables and was too unfamiliar. So, without thinking, I simply explained that “felicity” means “happiness.”

Aarghhh. Without a pause, I was named “Auntie Happy.” Then, concerned that “Auntie” would be misunderstood as “anti,” it was modified to “Aunt Happy.” Vishnu became Nick; Felicity became Aunt Happy.

Honored, I did my best to life up to my name. But it was a challenge. Is being “Aunt Happy” within my power? Or is it a gift from God?

In Nepal, there were occasions when I was happy as well as times when I was an agent of grace. But my happiness was a gift from others – it was their happiness that enveloped me rather than the result of anything I had done. Further, it was clear that my ability to be an accidental agent of grace was a gift from God – and the children also.

It was they who believed in me. And, as a result, I was changed, transformed. Though inadequate, I was baptized by their love.

I am humbled. I am happy.