In the early morning hours of August 31, 2004, employees of a Burger King in Richmond Hill, Georgia found a man unconscious next to the restaurant dumpster. He was fully naked, sunburnt, and covered with ant bites. More importantly, his skull showed signs of blunt force trauma. When he regained consciousness, his amnesia was so great that he could not even remember his name, much less the details of his attack.
Burger King employees helped revive him and called 911. He was taken to a hospital in nearby Savannah but with no identification, he was officially listed as “Burger King Doe” and diagnosed with dissociative amnesia. For more than ten years he was unable to remember his name, obtain a Social Security card, collect any benefits from the government, or get a job. He eventually named himself “Benjamin Kyle” based on his intuition that his first name might have been Benjamin.
The sad story of “Burger King Doe” — or “Benjamin Kyle”, if you prefer — is a reminder of Aristotle’s famous maxim: “Man is by nature a social animal.” We learn identity in community. We do not name ourselves; rather, we are “named” creatures, given identity by those who were named before us. My two names — “Jason” and “Bybee” — remind me both of my immediate and distant lineage: Alton and Myrna, who selected my first name; and the generational stream of Bybees of which I am a part. This is my identity. This is who I am. And I learn all of this in community.
How sad, then, when our community fails to teach us who we are. “I think my name might have been Benjamin.” We realize what is at stake when no one tells the young person who she is and from where she comes. She is left to answer the question on her own, to fill in the gaps as best she can. Self-discovery is a uniquely human endeavor, but this need not be in conflict with our intrinsic yearning to have an identity conferred, to be told about ourselves by someone other than ourselves. “I think my name might have been Benjamin.” Such sad, sad words.
It turns out that “Benjamin Kyle” wasn’t a “Benjamin” after all. With the help of investigative reporters and genetic testing, he learned his true identity in 2015. In the end, even for “Benjamin Kyle”, the journey toward identity was a communal one.
So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.