Sunday, March 21, 2010

Three Little Words

In every professional setting I have ever worked, it has been essential to remember the names of others, and not just a few names, but scores of names. This is particularly challenging for me, because I don’t consider myself to be a social animal. I’d much rather keep to my small circle of cherished friends (or simply be alone) than be surrounded by large groups of people. Nevertheless, when I was a teacher, I prided myself on not only knowing the names of my students, but of all the students I came in contact with, whether it was in the halls or on the playground or in the cafeteria. Doing so, personalized each interaction; it made the kids feel known in a way that I never did; it shrunk the school. Later it was essential for me, as a professional developer, to know the names of my trainees and to use them during the training, whether acknowledging a participant’s or thanking someone for their input. Again, it made the room feel like an intimate community.

But the fact is that I had to work at it. Hard. In addition to being an introvert, I am simply not good at remembering names. When we first moved into our home, the former owner gave us a “cheat sheet,” naming all the adults and kids on the block that they knew. Two years later, I still refer to it. And I’m perpetually embarrassed when someone will walk up to me, start chatting, use my name…and I can’t remember theirs. But because I cannot tolerate the anxiety of not knowing, I never play it off. I always ask.

The way I’ve learned to compensate for this weakness is to use someone’s name three times upon a first (or second or third) meeting to commit it to memory and sounding robotic. “That’s really interesting, Amy.” “Where did you say you were from, Amy?” “I’m really pleased to meet you, Amy.” But, I suppose sounding robotic is better than getting caught not knowing.

My skill deficit is Sophia’s forte. We are driving to ShopRite to pick up a few things and I’m chatting away about plans for the week.

“Oh,” I say, “why don’t I give Daddy’s friend a call…the one we met at The Little Treehouse …who had a son your age. What was his name? Not Elmo…not Aldo….”

“ARLO! Yes! You’re right!” Sophia interrupts me, recalling his name and reversing her pronouns in the process.

“That IS his name. Sophia. Good remembering. Yes, let’s see if Arlo and his mommy are free next Tuesday.”

This was not a fluke. As soon as Sophia could name objects, she was interested in knowing the names of people. MORE interested in knowing the names of people than objects. We would pass random individuals on the street, and as young as a year she would demand, “NAME!” It was impossible to explain that though everyone HAS a name, I don’t necessarily know it. To Sophia I must appear to be omniscient as I point out the names of all the things that surround us.

Now older, Sophia El Curioso, is no longer satisfied with my not knowing, she simply approaches each person she meets and, before she even says hello, asks “What’s your name?” with a little upturned twist of her hand that I used to couple with my verbal prompts to ask a “what” question. Then, later, out of the clear blue, she’ll talk about this person we met at the park, or the Shop Rite, or in the doctor’s office. “Talk about Hudson!” she’ll demand as I struggle to remember exactly who of the 150 people we met that day was Hudson.

She says it louder, “TALK ABOUT HUDSON,” as if I’m deaf, not stupid.

Oh yeah. He was the kid on the scooter at the ice cream shop.

This one, simple question, “What’s your name?” says more about who Sophia is than anything I could convey in a paragraph, an article, or a book. She is sociophilic. She has an unspoken mission to meet every person on the planet. She has an innate understanding that everyone deserves to be acknowledged. That everyone wants to be known.

And the impact on me is immeasurable. Sophia forces me out of my shell. I wind up talking to others who, without her, I never would have made contact. We talk to boys, girls, men and women. We talk to kids, teenagers, and the elderly. We talk to people of every color and every ethnicity. We talk to people who never would have talked to ME if Sophia wasn’t around. And, almost without exception, everyone leaves these interactions with a smile on his/her face.

Sophia has shrunk my world.

1 comment:

mmoloughney said...

And your beautiful story just left a smile on mine. Miss you.