What Is ‘Wisdom Forever’?

[I’m 60% of the way to my goal for my GoFundMe! Thanks to everyone who has pitched in thus far.]

My middle name, Jeeyoung, is pretty important to me, which is why I often style my name “Christina J. Kelly” and why I included it in my college nickname “CJ.” It’s the only part of my name that connects me to my Korean heritage, and it translates to “wisdom forever” (智永 in Chinese characters). 

When I was a child and “wisdom” was just a fancy synonym for “being smart,” it felt like a name with great expectations. It meant getting A’s in school and never falling prey to the petty delinquencies pursued by bored and/or traumatized kids in a comfortable Boston suburb. It was invoked by Korean church ladies and older relatives, a temperamental father, and others who have since dissipated out of my life.

After surviving the frying pan of formal education and jumping into the fire of adulthood, it started dawning on me that while I’d generally succeeded in being smart, there was something else to wisdom. It was a more ineffable thing — you couldn’t get a degree in it — and it was hidden in old cliches and greying beards. I carried it around like a dusty plaque inscribed in a long-dead language, incomprehensible but clearly valuable. The “forever” bit was almost as enigmatic, dancing as I was in an ephemeral milieu of startups and futuristic technology. Did anything really last forever? My name was significant but out of touch with my surroundings.

Then 2020 came, with its many undeniable reckonings. I found a new meaning in the phrase that followed me as surely and closely as a shadow, the one that was forged for me personally when I was newly minted in the world yet spoke to something eternal that I couldn’t hope to fully contain. I saw the global climate falling apart, and the overlooked oppression of millions bursting through the facade of the richest country in the world, and a deadly disease that simultaneously isolated humans and forced us to work together. Once seen and understood, I knew I could never return to the blissful darkness of ignorance. This cold wisdom, once attained, was forever.

I’m by nature an optimistic person, though, and I’ve kept searching for a new angle on this topic that wasn’t so bleak in its finality. I’ve come to realize that wisdom isn’t just the awareness of the heralds of doom, but also the capacity to trust that life goes on. It’s possessed by the plants and animals who make their way in an uncertain world with unconscious grace. It’s often resisted by us humans, who fill our heads with strange shoulds and shouldn’ts, made-up things like “power” and “money,” and so on, but I think we all stop struggling and accept it eventually. I don’t have to explain it anymore, because it’s just me. I just have to remember it, and that’s why it’s my name.