There’s something about a name.
I had been told that she was a little grumpy and wasn’t big on chit-chat. They told me to get in, do what I had to do, then get back out. They told me to not waste my time on idle chatter; I wouldn’t get anything out of her.
I walked in the room a little apprehensively. The last person I had been told was “a little grumpy” threw something at my head. She groaned an acknowledgment of my presence and told me she had a headache.
To my shame, I didn’t talk to her. I told her I would see what I could do for that, did what I had to do, then left.
I was not looking forward to the time I was about to have to spend with her.
I went back in to see her a few minutes later. I had more things to do.
This time, she started talking to me. The woman they told me was “a little grumpy” was actually very lonely. Yeah, she was a little gruff, but she also hadn’t slept well in a few days.
And then I asked the question that would turn our entire day around.
“What do you want me to call you today?”
She stared at me for a long second, smiled, and told me a completely different name than everyone had been calling her.
“It’s my middle name. I go by my middle name.”
From that point on, I had a staunch supporter, a fast friend, and a willing partner in all the day’s goings on. If I told her we needed to go somewhere, she was game. If she needed help with something, she let me know first.
For the rest of the day, I got strange looks as I called her one name while everyone else called her something else. We just smiled a secret smile at each other and did what we had to do.
She told me about her dreams and the things she wanted from life. I told her about my travels and the places I wanted to go.
And she changed.
In the course of our day, she turned from a grumpy woman in a darkened room, to a smiling woman in a light-filled room.
I didn’t really realize the extent of the change in her until I walked in to check on her and found her trying to get up. She hadn’t gotten out of bed in two days because she didn’t think she could. Now, she declared that she was fine. And she was. She could walk.
When I told her my goodbyes at the end of the day, she thanked me. She told me I had done more good for her in my hours with her than had been done in days. I asked her what I had done that no one else had.
“You called me by my name.”
They told me he was completely deaf. They said that I could try talking to him, but it wouldn’t do much good. They told me his wife was a mother bear and could be pretty difficult. They said I might have trouble with her, to tread lightly.
When I walked in the room, his eyes followed me everywhere, but he didn’t say a word. His wife sat beside him, holding his hand, watching me too.
“Good morning. How are you guys today?”
His wife answered, “We’ve been better, but we’re hanging in there.”
I looked him in the eye, “How did you sleep?”
“Oh, he’s deaf,” she said.
They exchanged a look.
“He can’t hear much of anything.”
“Does he have one ear that’s better than the other?”
“No… He’s just deaf.”
“Okay. Well, what do you want me to call you guys today? Is Mr. and Mrs. ***** fine or is there something else you’d rather go by?”
She looked at me and smiled. And I will swear until I die that I saw him wink at me.
“You can call us by our first names. Last names are so formal, don’t you think? He can hear better out of his left ear.”
For the rest of the day, they were both incredibly supportive. The three of us chatted about their grandchildren and what they wanted to do with their retirement.
She supported all of my decisions. He was willing to do anything I asked. He stood up for me to one of my superiors. She bought me coffee because she knew I had a long day ahead of me. He laughed at all of my terrible jokes and told me some of his own. She laughed at both of us and told us we were worse than children.
When I went in to say my goodbyes, they both hugged me tight.
“Thank you,” she said, holding my hand. “Everyone calls us by our last names because we’re old. It was nice to just be us for a change.”
“You keep going, girl,” he said with another wink. “I know you’ll go far.”
It’s always the small things. It’s always a smile or a cup of coffee or a name.
Sometimes grumpy people are just lonely. Sometimes a bear just needs to be recognized as a scared human. Sometimes you just have to be willing to ask a simple question.
I’m coming to realize that there is incredible power in a name. It is who that person is. Their entire story is wrapped up in it. It’s what they will use to sign the dotted line when all is said and done. It’s the mile marker for their history.
Everyone who said something important to them used their name. Everyone who meant something to them knew their name. Everyone who loved them called them by their name.
Recognizing who someone is and calling them by their name can change them. It can make them better. It can sooth them. It can remind them of the good times.
Know someone’s name. And, more importantly, call them the right one. It can change their life. And yours.