I’ve read the whole book cover to cover numerous times. It’s a well-written, rhythmic read that I’d classify as an American classic. But, every time I read it, I’m left with a sad, empathetic realization that we never learn the name of the protagonist despite the prejudice he overcomes. We share in his journey of self-discovery but can never name him. Sam-I-Am’s eggs-and-ham-hating friend remains nameless.
Names are important. Like Norm from Cheers, we all want to “go where everybody knows your name.” It stings a bit when someone we know calls us by the wrong name, right? I’ve always been disturbed that we never learn the name of Sam-I-Am’s friend. In fact, whenever I read “Green Eggs and Ham” to a spellbound child sitting on my lap, I tell them that I call his friend “Doug.” I take joy in finishing the triumphant story with the child walking away knowing Doug’s name.
Do you know anyone who calls everyone “Pal” or “Buddy?” They don’t even try to learn names. They bug me. I mean, I understand how tough it is to learn names. I forget names a lot too but so far, no one has shot me in the face when I’ve said, “Dang, I’m embarrassed. I’m forgetting your name.” They usually laugh and tell me their name which I try to repeat awkwardly at least three times within the next minute to burn it into my memory.
“Thanks Doug. You’d think I’d remember “Doug” because I just “dug” a hole in my yard thinking, ‘I wonder what Doug has been doing lately.’ So, Doug, how have you been?”
No, I’m not quite that bad but I do try because I know that names are important.
Have you ever felt like a number, a patient or just a case? Have you felt like no more than a box on someone’s task list? I have. I like it less than getting mail addressed to “Current Resident.” I’ve felt like a number or case a bunch of times over the past couple years.
If you are struggling with chronic illness you know what I mean. If you know someone fighting disease, I want you to know what I mean. No one wants to lose their identity to their condition. I’m sure Doug doesn’t like being known as ‘that guy who didn’t like green eggs and ham.” It happens a lot. A lot of us won’t take the time to learn someone’s name. But, names are important.
Like Jean Valjean, 24601, I have a new number. Whenever I sign in for a test or blood tests at Lahey Hospital I spout off my Lahey number. I know it by heart because it’s more effective than my name at identifying me in most departments. I understand the reason they use it; others might share my name but no one else has my number. Still, I prefer my name.
In fact, the second I walk through the door into the Lahey transplant department, I feel like I’m being welcomed home. Maria gives hugs and is genuinely enthusiastic. Evelyn smiles, calls me by name and checks my medication list. Denise comes into the waiting room to get another patient and greets me by name and asks, “How’s Josh doing?” Pauline is my nurse. Hey, I know she has other patients but she always makes me feel like I am her only patient. Even the surgeons that operated on Josh and me feel like family. I feel like I could invite Jim and Liz over for dinner and we’d be totally comfortable and laugh a lot. Out of respect we do call them “Dr. Pomposelli” and “Dr. Pomfret” but I’m certain it’s not a big deal to them. I gave them a picture of Josh and I and our dog PomPom, who we named after them.
I know we’re fortunate to have had the Lahey experience with its attention to patient care. Trust me, I’ve had plenty of other hospital experiences over the past two years where that wasn’t the case. I’ve laid in hospital beds knowing I am merely next on the task list while a nurse or doctor has hurried through doing whatever the list demands. I’ve winced after being ignored by phlebotomists when I pointed out my best veins. I’ve had nurses get snippy with me when they try to give me a med that is still on their list despite the doctor telling me she was removing it that morning.
I’m sure that if you’ve been walking your own health crisis journey we could sit all afternoon sharing horror stories. We could share times when we had no name and occasions when our feelings didn’t matter.
But, I want to tell you that I believe there is one who never forgets your name. There’s a story in the ancient book I like to read where Jesus was walking the road with a crowd pestering him. He stops at a tree where a short guy perched hoping to get a glimpse of Jesus passing by. The tree climber is not a popular guy. He collects taxes for a living so no one is ever happy to see him coming. Jesus stops and calls him by name, tells him to climb down and tells him that he wants to come to his house for dinner!
Do you get that? Not “hey short guy” or “yo, half pint” but he called his name. Zacchaeus. And then, while everyone was mumbling about how unclean and insignificant Zacchaeus was, Jesus announces that he’d like to come to dinner.
I’ve been “that guy who needs a transplant” and “the patient in 531” and the next number on the task list for a couple of years. I know how Doug, the green-eggs guy, feels. I know how you feel.
But, wherever you are now, hospital bed, sunken couch or recliner at home, the Jesus I know cares enough to stop, call you by name and come in to spend time with you. Take all the time you need. Doze off if you need to, he’ll be right there when you wake up.
Another of my favorite pictures in scripture is a picture of God running. It is the story of the son who turned his back on his dad and walked away. After making all his mistakes and poor choices, he decides to come back home to beg for a job. Expecting and deserving the worst, he gets the best. His dad spots him coming down the road, runs toward him and throws his arms around him announcing a huge welcome-home party. The dad in that story represents God. The son is you or me. (Luke 15:11-24) God cares enough to run to you.
My Jesus calls you by name. He never forgets it, never calls you “Buddy” and never asks for your ID number. He never saw me as “the liver transplant guy” and he doesn’t look at you as “the woman on dialysis” or “that guy whose kid has cancer.” He knows your name and wants to walk by your side through this entire awful journey to listen, support and cry with you.
Why not give him a chance? I don’t think I would have made it through without my faith.
“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.” Rev. 3:20 (NIV)