I was standing in the galley of a plane with a rabbi at 2AM when I learned what my name meant.
Rabbi Ben had joined me in the rear galley of the plane. I was stretching my six-foot frame from sitting in the 24-inch cell we call “Coach”. We were halfway across the Atlantic Ocean and hours away from Tel Aviv.
“You’re such a downer”, he said it and then let out a deep chuckle, the kind you’d expect from a rabbi telling a joke. He could tell immediately I had missed the joke completely. “You don’t know what your names means. Do you?”
At this point I’m thinking a few things. One, I’m not certain I want to learn what my names means at 2AM in the galley of a plane from a rabbi and two, I desperately want to know what my name means.
My parents had told me the story of how my name came to me. It was a collision of my father watching country westerns and reading the genealogies in Genesis. It all makes perfect sense if you’re the son of a Baptist preacher born in Oklahoma.
Jarrod Barkley (spelled J-A-R-R-O-D) was the eldest son of the family in the western show The Big Valley. He was educated and refined and handled all of the family's business affairs. Jarrod preferred the law to settle disputes, but was known to resort to frontier justice when necessary.
Jared, (spelled J-A-R-E-D) was the great-great-grandson of Seth, the son of Adam. Like Adam and Eve son of Adam. Bible Jared has a son whose name is Enoch. And, Enoch is the one who walked with God. So, my parents are thinking he has to be a good dad. And it’s really not important, but incase you get stumped in Bible trivia I’ll mention that Jared’s grandson is Methuselah. Who’s that? He is the longest-living human mentioned in the Bible with an age of 969 years.
Of course my parents chose Jared, J-A-R-E-D, the biblically accurate one.
My parents gave me a little plaque when I was in grade school. It has my name written in that Old English handwriting and under my name it has the meaning “God’s Descendent.” That’s what I’m holding on to in the galley.
Honestly, the only liability I saw with my name as a kid is I could never find it on the little license plates in the stores in Estes Park when my family was on summer vacation. I had only met one other Jared, we were in college together, but he spelled his name wrong, he was R-O-D, the western, not the biblical, chosen one like me.
Rabbi Ben looks at me and begins. “Your name, Yared, is like the river, the Yardan.” It’s 2AM but I’m keeping up. Yared = Hebrew of Jared, Yardan = Hebrew of Jordan. The Jordan the river that goes down from the Galilee to the Dead Sea. He sees I’m tracking. He continues, “Yared is the man who goes down, the man who falls down. Yared, you are a downer.” He let’s out another deep chuckle. “Such a downer.”
I’m thinking I’m in the galley of an international flight, above an ocean, hours away from a cigarette, and there’s a whole tray full of mini Jack Daniel’s right here.
An uninvited tear enters the corner of my eye. I think Rabbi Ben notices it. He is softer, for a rabbi, and he continues. “The picture of who you are is in three men.” I’m thinking I should have my journal to write this down. Ends up I could not forget all this even if I tried.
“Joseph, he is the man who goes down into the well, goes down into Egypt, goes down into prison.” I nod slowly. I know the story.
“Jonah, he is the man who is thrown down into the water and then is swallowed by the fish.” I know this story too. I never thought as a kid that Jonah would end up causing me so much heartache as an adult.
“Jesus, he is the man who they lay down in the grave.” This shit just got real. Who does this? Who uncorks this kind of meaning on someone in a plane galley at 2AM?
“That’s who you are. You are Yared. You go down.”
Well, fish, grave. You have to give it to God, He is great with word pictures.
I spent the next decade being the man who falls down.
The man who falls down is the man whose churches attendance dissolves.
The man who falls down is the man whose marriage ends in divorce.
The man who falls down is the man who slowly comes to trust that identity is not found not in the ascent, but in the descent.
“That’s who you are. You are Yared. You go down.”
I return to my 24-inch Coach cell. I stare out the plane window. It’s still hours before the plane will descend.
That flight was over ten years ago. But Rabbi Ben’s words leave a lasting wound.
Years later I’m remembering the plane, the galley, and the conversation. It is early. The predawn light is coming in the window. I am sitting on the couch with a candle, coffee, and quiet.
And then, as unexpectedly as finding out what my name meant on the plane the meaning of my name is redeemed.
“You are the man who falls down.” I breathe. I listen.
It starts with a trickle, then begins to flow into a stream, now a river. Just like the River Yardan. “You are the man who falls down.” The “you” has moves and I see.
Jesus, You are the man who falls down carrying the cross. But bigger and before and beyond that act You are the God-man who comes down. The incarnation, God becoming man, is the ultimate picture of Yared, “the man who goes down”. The greatest of descents was from beyond the cosmos to created dirt.
I breathe. I remember. Redemption comes at a price. Something has to be given up.
What have I given up?
I’ve given up being the man who wants to always be moving up.
I’ve given up being the man who never falls down.
I’ve given up believing there is any other way to know who you truly are than to go descend.
I never would have thought my B-list Bible celebrity name could mean so much.
Yared. I am one who goes down.
I sometimes imagine being back in the galley of a plane with Rabbi Ben. I’d thank him for his untimely joke and his deep chuckle about being me being such a downer. I imagine pulling out two minis from the tray and saying, “How about a toast? To the ones who go down!”
Jared Ray Mackey