Wednesday, March 3, 2010

"What have you done with my name?"

This weekend we gave our new baby a name and a blessing. As I thought about the significance of this priesthood ordinance, I thought of the importance of names. Growing up, my parents taught me that a person's name is sacred. As I got older, I learned that when we gossip or lie about a person, we are damaging their "good name". I also remembered a story I heard as a young girl that made a deep impact on me.

President George Albert Smith told the story of a time when he was seriously ill and had traveled to St. George, Utah, to see if it would improve his health. He became so weak that he could scarcely move. In his account he recalled: “One day, under these conditions, I lost consciousness of my surroundings and thought I had passed to the Other Side. ... I saw a man coming towards me. I became aware that he was a very large man, and I hurried my steps to reach him, because I recognized him as my grandfather. … I remember how happy I was to see him coming. I had been given his name and had always been proud of it.

“When Grandfather came within a few feet of me, he stopped. His stopping was an invitation for me to stop. Then—and this I would like the boys and girls and young people never to forget—he looked at me very earnestly and said:

“ ‘I would like to know what you have done with my name.’

“Everything I had ever done passed before me as though it were a flying picture on a screen—everything I had done. Quickly this vivid retrospect came down to the very time I was standing there. My whole life had passed before me. I smiled and looked at my grandfather and said:

‘I have never done anything with your name of which you need be ashamed.’

“He stepped forward and took me in his arms, and as he did so, I became conscious again of my earthly surroundings. My pillow was wet as though water had been poured on it—wet with tears of gratitude that I could answer unashamed.”

President Smith continued to say, “I have thought of this many times, and I want to tell you that I have been trying, more than ever since that time, to take care of that name. So I want to say to the boys and girls, to the young men and women, to the youth of the Church and of all the world: Honor your fathers and mothers. Honor the names that you bear, because some day you will have the privilege and the obligation of reporting to them (and to your Father in heaven) what you have done with their name.” (George Albert Smith, Sharing the Gospel with Others, Deseret Book Co., 1948, pp. 111–12.)(O. Leslie Stone, “The Importance of Reputation,” New Era, Feb 1978, 41)

The statement that we will have to account for what we have done with the names we bear, including the name of our Father in heaven, has gone a long way to keeping me in check. At times, it may seem that it doesn't matter what we do. Maybe we live far from home. No one knows who we are. They don't know our family. Does it really matter if we soil that name a little from time to time?

When I was a Senior in high school, I learned the answer to that question. I found myself in a "Bible bash" with some girls in my chorus class. What had started innocently enough with a few simple questions had turned into "let's gang up on the heathen Mormon and see if we can save her". After 3 days, I knew it had to stop. All we were doing was arguing. We weren't going to change any one's mind. I prayed for a way out of the mess I had gotten myself into.

The next day, as class started, the leader of the "opposition" came up to me, a list of scripture verses in her hand, ready to prove my beliefs wrong. I felt my stomach tighten and silently prayed for a way out. The girl waved the list in my face and said, "I talked to my daddy last night and he gave me list of scriptures to use as ammunition against you." The other girls clustered behind her, reminding me of a pack of wolves ready to pounce on their cornered prey.

The ring leader sat down next to me and said "Before we get started I have to ask you a question. Do you know Harlie Wilson?" This was probably the most unexpected thing she could have asked me at that moment. I had no idea where she was going with it so I just answered truthfully, "Yes."

"How do you know him?" She asked. I felt like I was on trial as she stared hard at me. "He is my uncle. My grandpa's brother." She relaxed and sighed deeply. "I was afraid of that." she said regretfully. Then she folded up her paper and put it away. The "pack of wolves" looked even more startled than I felt at that moment and asked what was going on.

The girl thought a moment and said, "I told my dad all about you and he said I should ask if you were related to Harlie Wilson. He said your uncle used to cut his hair when he was a little boy and that he was the best man he had ever met. He told me that if you were related to him I should leave you alone. I still think I can prove your church is wrong and I really want to. But I have never heard my dad talk about someone with that much respect. My dad is the best man I have ever met and if he says to leave you alone that is what I am going to do."

And that was it. We never argued or even mentioned religion again. This whole episode nearly overwhelmed me with "coincidences". I was deeply grateful for the wonderful example of my great-uncle*. I, like President Smith, had reflected on my behavior and was relieved to know that I was worthy of being associated with my family. My classmate and her father were also people of integrity who recognized the good in others and were willing to set aside their personal differences.

The most important lesson I learned was that you never know who is watching. My uncle didn't know that a little boy sitting in his barber chair was paying attention to what kind of man was holding the scissors.

*This is the only link I could find.


Julie Adams said...

Congratulations on the new baby! Hope all is well!

Dottie, Chad, Heav, Court and CJ said...

What a great story and even better message! Thanks Amy!