On an Alaskan cruise a couple of years ago, (let me say here, we learned that we are more free range travelers than cruise people–but that is not really pertinent to the story) i was eating lunch with an elderly couple. Jeremy was in the room struggling with a nasty bout of vertigo, and while this was not a formal “assigned seating” kind of cruise, these folks graciously asked me to join them. I don’t remember where they were from, or their names, or really anything about them, other than that they were lovely. I also remember that, for about 5 minutes, the man tried in vain to subtly alert his wife to some mayo (or something) that she had on her lip, and she was oblivious to his every signal.
It was a fascinating bit of social commentary. First of all, it takes a certain level of intimacy to tell someone “hey, you’ve got some food on your face,” or “hey, your fly is unzipped….” So much, in fact, that a person of an older, more refined generation would not even tell his wife such a thing in the company of a stranger. Apparently, that is a closed-door kind of intimacy. I almost stepped in, any number of times, to just tell her myself. But for one thing, i was thoroughly enjoying the spectacle of his futile efforts at communication. It was like a one-sided game of charades! And secondly i figured, you know… he knows her better than i do. Maybe 50-some years of marriage have taught this guy that his wife is very genteel and easily embarrassed. So i left them to wade through the awkwardness that seemed so loving, in its own way.
I’m thinking about these folks today because i had something happen to me yesterday, not for the first time, that i liken to the food-on-face situation, with a markedly different set of protocol… I was at the grocery store, and a kind butcher at the meat counter said “Are you just getting off of work? Because [whispers--you've still got your name tag on."]
Now, this guy does not know me. I seriously doubt that he would tell me if i had spinach in my teeth, or toilet paper hanging off of my shoe. But the same delicacy is not required, i guess, to alert someone that they have left a bit of work attached to their body, a little piece of the day that is following them outside the parameters of the working world. It is a nice little piece of commaraderie among working-class citizens, i think… that “hey, i totally get it, i can’t leave my work at the office either.” Or, in his case, in the meat cooler.
Like i say, this is not the first time someone has told me, “hey, you’re still wearing your name tag.” Strangers who would never presume to point out other social faux pas, have no qualms in pointing out this one. “Be careful,” they are sort of saying. “That nametag is an invitation for someone to talk to you, learn your name, find out about what you do. And once we’ve left the office, none of us wants that!”
Here’s the secret that they learn, once they get close enough…Close enough to see what the name tag actually says. The secret is, i left it on purpose. The secret is, i never leave my work day in the parameters of a cubicle, an office, or a building. I don’t even leave my work day in a designated service area of the greater Phoenix metro. No, who i am and what i do follows me everywhere. It is not something that i can wipe off, floss out, or zip up.
Secret is, i wear my name tag on purpose. Secret is, i wear my name tag to the grocery store, and the library, and the coffee place and the neighborhood lunch stops, and to the hospital, and anywhere else that it might serve as an invitation. Anywhere else it might lead someone to say, “hey, where do you work? Because whatever you do, you are still carrying it with you.” Truth is, that is a door that nobody opens unless they are looking for a certain kind of connection…And once they’ve essentially shown me that they’re looking, I can tell them exactly where to find it. I can promise them that if they come to the church on the corner–where i do some of my work, but not all–that they will find at least 150 other people who wear the work of faith on their person, everywhere they go. At least 150 other people who will love you enough to tell you that you’ve got food on your face. Or at least cast you a gentle, loving signal to let you know.
The butcher at Safeway does not know me. At least, he didn’t know me yesterday. But now he does. And if he ever crosses the street to visit my church, I will know his, too. It is Ron.