Mr. Baker

I’d been away so long. Too long. The occasion for coming home, I no longer remember. But I needed to walk. So, I stepped out my childhood home and into the early morning humidity of summertime in Cincinnati. Coming from San Diego, the sky felt close. So close that I had to stay my hand from reaching for it. I started walking, walking my streets. I walked past houses, yards and trees that were familiar but now confusingly small to me. I walked up to the mini-mall and strolled along its storefronts. All of them were “Sorry we’re closed” dark. All of them except for one. I paused before it, said to myself “Why not”, and opened the glass door emblazoned with “Baker Insurance”. A chime announced my arrival. Mr. Baker turned around, smiled that trademark Baker-smile, and gave me this long, sweet sounding, slow on the syllable “Shaaawwnn”.

My heart. Oh, my heart. I almost started tearing up.

Only those who’ve seen you from the beginning, only those who have witnessed, watched, observed and maybe asked, while you were running around on some little league field, “I wonder what’s he’s going to grow up to be?” can lengthen the pronunciation of your name in such a manner. It’s like he had to stretch the saying of my name so as to hold all of the memories, honor the history, and give himself the time to count in his head all the years that had passed since we were last standing in such similar proximity. That would have been high school, when I was a boy trying on manhood. Yet, when I opened the door to his business that day, I was a man. A man with a lot less hair and a bit of grey in his beard. But Mr. Baker did not miss a beat. He said my name like it was a secret.

Well, it is a secret. There are parts of my story that only those back home know. Those like Mr. Baker know. And, knowing that those parts of my story are known, known by others, known by others in a way that moves them to say my name in that long stretch-out-the-syllable way, roots my existence. I know that I’m known. I exist.

Since high school, I have moved and moved and moved again. And, no one says (or can say) my name in a similar way, in a way that lets me know that I am known. Not like those back home. Yes, I have friends that can stretch the saying of my name a bit. And, when they do, it feels good. But no one can stretch the saying of my name in that arms-wide-open way like those back home. And, hearing Mr. Baker say my name in that way made me feel loved. Fully loved. He told me that I was home. He told me that I could come on home. I didn’t have to come home a success or a hero. I just had to come home.

By saying my name in that way, he said sit down and bring me up to speed. So, I did. And, he brought me up to speed on all things Mark. His son. My friend. By saying my name in that way, he said let me carry the weight. Take a break. I’ve got things. And, for a few moments, I got a respite from adulthood. For a few moments, I let him carry all of the weight and responsibilities that attend that sometimes unforgiving station of life. If a calamity was going to befall us, I was going to let Mr. Baker handle it. No calamity did. But if it had, I know he would have handled it. Of course, he would have. He’s Mr. Baker.

While sitting with him, time lost its linearity. I got to be a kid again. Safe and secure in the presence of a trusted adult. That pocket of time with him was unbelievably comforting.

Now, there’s a moment. And, the thought of that moment tightens my throat. That dreaded moment when no one’s around to say my name in that way again. I know it’s coming. I get it. I know that it is all part of the bargain, part of the deal of being here. I know that this is the way of things. But, the arrival of that moment concerns me, concerns me immensely. Because, with the arrival of that moment, I will be the only one left to carry my story. And, there are parts of my story that only others know. Parts that I have yet to learn. Parts that I don’t remember. Parts that I choose not to remember but need to remember. And, as long as there are others around still holding some part of my story, then there exists an opportunity for me to come to a fuller, deeper, and more nuanced knowing of myself. Once they’re gone, that opportunity is gone and my story will never be fully known to me. But I suppose that goes for all of us. And, when that moment arrives (which I hope is not too soon in coming), my task will be to carry my story authentically incomplete and tell it to others as truthfully as I can. Until that moment arrives, my task is to thank Mr. Baker and all of the others (my neighbors, teachers, coaches and the parents of all of my friends) who have said and will feel compelled to say my name in that stretched out I-know-who-you-are way.

Thank you.


If you enjoyed this blog, you may enjoy my This is the Work newsletter.

Thanks. – shawn