My wife and I have a life-giving tradition of going on a “date” on my day off. We often stop at the Silver Spur for a hearty breakfast and great conversation. The Silver Spur is kinda like my second office. I’ve had many significant conversations in that place over the years which means I’ve become a bit of a familiar face at the Spur. They know my name and I know the name of the staff – – or so I thought.
For years I called my host “Steve.” Steve always gets me a good seat and a hot cup coffee every time I step into the Spur. I’ve talked with Steve about the weather, the Oakland Raiders, and his family. I call him Steve because years ago I was with another Spur regular who called him Steve. But last Friday I mentioned Steve to one of the other waiter’s and he said, “Steve who?” I went on to describe him in detail, and he laughed at me and said, “Do you mean Pie?” I said, “No! Not Pie – whoever that is. I mean Steve.” He said, “Uh there’s no Steve that works here.” At that moment, Aleta looked at me and said “Andy, are you kidding me!? I’ve been calling him Steve, because you call him Steve, and that’s not even his name!? Who does that!?” Oops.
Now I was curious. So I asked our waitress, “Okay what is the host’s actual name?” She said, “Oh his name is Pie.” “Why didn’t he ever correct me when I kept calling him the wrong name for ten years?” I asked. She said, “Oh honey. People give us all kinds of names. This is just a job, and people give us names of their choosing because we’re just servers. Our job is to serve the food. You can call me whatever you want as long as I can get a good tip.” I was stunned. I never knew this was the life of a waiter. People just give you an identity and you live with it – no questions asked, no corrections offered.
The more I think about it, the more I realize this is just the way it works for all of us. People in this broken world see us the way they see us, then they name us the way they choose to name us, and finally they treat us the way they think our name deserves. We can choose to put our heads down and say nothing so that we can “get a good tip,” or we can object and say “actually this is my name and this is who I really am.” Next time I see “Steve” I’m going to apologize, call him his real name, and have a good laugh at how idiotic I really am. I also think I’m going to be a lot more careful about how I see, I name, and then treat people.