“Do you know me?” The American Express ads have been running for a couple of decades, showing famous folks; businessmen, movie stars, athletes, and others plying their crafts and then showing the face of the iconic green credit card with their name on it. I’ve seen those ads for all of those years and have finally given up the dream that one will ever be made for me. Oh, my shattered dream has nothing to do with not accomplishing anything noteworthy (although it hasn’t yet happened); it’s just that not many of the folks who know what I do also know what my name is.
I don’t make the trip as often as I once did, but when I go into any of the local schools, I walk through the halls with a number of the kids recognizing me and greeting me by name. The problem is that not one of them calls me by the right name. “Hello, Mr. Whitmore!” “Hey guys look! It’s Mr. Whitmore!” I just grin and say, “Hello,” right back to each of them without correction. A fella can only bang his hard head against the same brick wall so many times before realizing that it’s not going to give way. I’ve run this music store with the Lovely Lady’s maiden name attached to it for over twenty-five years now, so I understand what it would take to fix the problem and it’s not going to happen. In the business world, they call it “branding”. In our little town, the name “Whitmore” has been synonymous with music for so many years that it would take a really poor head for business to change the store’s name now.
It’s not just the school kids. The phone calls come constantly, with the voice at the other end asking for me. “May I speak with Mr. Whitmore?” I used to tell them that I wasn’t sure there was any phone service where he is now, but currently, the stock answer is, “I’m as close as you get to a Mr. Whitmore in this place. May I help you?” I can joke about it now, because after all these years, I’ve finally come to grips with the fact that I’m never going to be known for who I am, but mostly for what I do. It’s a small consolation that when a customer wants something late at night, my brother-in-law gets to field their call, since they look up his last name in the phone book, instead of mine.
As if the Whitmore confusion wasn’t enough, there are the folks who can’t remember my first name, either. My name is “David” to one of my long time customers. When I first met this gentleman thirty-four years ago, he had just come to the United States. Jaime drove his green 1951 Ford pickup truck into a parking spot in front of our store downtown and came in. He spoke no English, so I had to use my minimal Spanish language skills to communicate. My old friend came in the other day and we talked about the old days, his skill in English having improved exponentially; mine in Spanish, not at all. “David, we’ve been friends a long time, haven’t we?” he asked. I laughed with him, both about the thought of all the years gone by and inwardly, about the fact that he still calls me David. I wouldn’t think about correcting him.
The proprietors at one of the local take-out restaurants knew me simply as “Larry” for several years before someone corrected them. I hadn’t thought it important, as long as they continued to feed me, but they were a little upset that I failed to set them straight myself. I laughed with them and told them that I wasn’t picky about what I was called, relating my predicament with my last name, so they felt better about their very slight faux pas. Every once in awhile, I get called “Larry” when I step through the door of that establishment, even now.
Mr. Shakespeare, a few hundred years ago had the lovely Juliet say it in these words, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would still smell as sweet.” Titles and names are nothing more than words. Our lives give meaning to those words. In the music store, I’m happy to be called by another name, as long as I know that I have accomplished what it takes to gain my customer’s confidence and trust. In the larger context of my life, I will be content to know that my love for my God, the Lovely Lady and my family, and for my neighbor defines me. Whether we like it or not, the aroma of our lives takes precedence over any name by which we’re known.
So, there’ll be no American Express ad to remind you of my famous name, but maybe, just maybe, I’ll come out smelling like a rose anyway.
“Not everything has a name. Some things lead us into a realm beyond words.”
(Alexander Solzhenitsyn~Russian novelist)
“I always wanted to be somebody, but now I realize I should have been more specific.”
(Lily Tomlin~American comic)