“Jesus Christ is a name, not a swear word.”
This fat-stacked headline was red-lettered boldly on the back of the semi that I cannot help but assume was trying to introduce me to the aforementioned Christ Himself in person, by way of steamrolling my puny convertible to smithereens as I was being forced onto the California Freeway last week.
Perhaps the publicly reproachful driver felt, as he muttered words of encouragement to himself, foiled in his efforts to separate my soul from my body, that perhaps I was a pro-choice supporter, and he could feel sure that another in The Crusade might tag me later – and I’d plummet downward, instead.
“Jesus! That was close!” I said to my beautiful assistant, Lacey, my passenger.
Although the driver could not hear – he was, by then, far ahead of me, blowing the doors off California’s law against truckers driving faster than 55 mph – it DID give me some satisfaction to say it.
The trucker DOES make a point, however, that I’ll wager he himself is too ignorant to know he’s making.
Words – particularly names – have enormous power.
Take my own. You might as well. There are an awful lot of Elizabeths out there.
So many, in fact, Elizabeth Stone wrote a Lives column in the New York Times Magazine about an online gathering of Elizabeths in May, 1999 – an article which obviously caught my eye – and I, obviously not being shy, wrote the New York Times to tell them, and they, obviously tickled by my response, even published it.*
[READ THE LETTER AT THE END OF THIS POST.]
(So: on my tombstone, or in my obituary, someone PLEASE mention that I was at least ONE time published in The Grey Lady?** Thank you. Much obliged.)
To carry on:
Unlike the many Liz, Lizzie, Bess, Libby, Bitsy, Bette, Betsy (the Elizabeth who birthed me is one), Belle, Beth, Bettina, Eliza, Lisa, Liza, Tibby, and the list goes on ad infinitum, I myself prefer: “Elizabeth,” the anglicized form of the original Hebrew name “Elisheva,” meaning “my G-d is an oath.”
What “my G-d is an oath” means, though, I’m not sure.
People, when I introduce myself, nearly always try to be kind of smooth, and say: “So… do you go by ‘Elizabeth,’ or…” Then they trail off, sort of expecting me to fill in one of the above nicknames.
(Sometimes, though, they just insert the horrid “Liz.” Which is not horrid, of course, on some people. Just horrid on ME.)
Which means I have to jump in quickly with: “Yes, ‘Elizabeth.’ It’s a few more syllables, but I’m worth it.”
(Actually? My good friends, and even my oldest daughter, call me “Tish,” a nickname I got dubbed with by someone whom I love with all my heart – but that’s another story.)
I’d often heard rumors that medics, in efforts to revive someone, will call their name, but I’d dismissed it until I’d reluctantly found myself headed to the Emergency Room with yet ANOTHER concussion (I’ve been told that if I were a pro athlete, I’d be forced into retirement.)
Promptly, and to the extreme embarrassment of everyone – except, of course, me – I dropped like a stone, right at the nurses’ check-in station, galvanizing everyone into action.
Although I recall little of the actual dive downward, I DO remember two things:
A sharp pain in my chest where a cruel nurse helpfully twisted my skin sharply to revive me – which, although it certainly focused my attention, even THAT didn’t pull me out of the fog I was in – until I heard the nurse ask one of my kids: “What’s her name?”
Naturally, in standard kid-fashion, I heard the kids go: “What?”
As if the nurse has asked instead:
“What is the cosine derivative of x minus the square root of pi?”
“Her NAME,” the nurse asked again. “What is her NAME?”
“Oh,” they said. “Elizabeth.”
In their defense, I think they had to stop for a moment and remember my name isn’t actually MOM.
When the nurse started barking “Elizabeth! Elizabeth!” in that demanding sort of way, it really DID pull me back. Sort of the same way your own grownups do when you’re a kid and you get the call from your bed: “Get up! The bus will be here any minute.”
Calling my name brought me back from Neverland in the oddest sort of way that confirmed the rumor: it turned out to be a sort of Dr. Jekyll experiment on my own self that left me with a “Dang! It’s TRUE!” feeling, wondering what ELSE I’d heard that might ALSO be true.
Jesus Christ! There’s a whole world of weirdness out there to discover!
Hopefully, though, I won’t have to get concussed or run over to find them all out.
# # #
* Where Everybody Knew My Name
Published: Sunday, May 30, 1999
Elizabeth Stone’s Lives column (May 9) on the on-line gathering of Elizabeths reflected perfectly the trend for small groups to coalesce on the Internet based on hobbies, interests or random commonalities like names. The Internet, vast as it is, seems to spark a small-town quilting-bee longing in many users.
Of course, there was another reason Stone’s column caught my attention. I’m also an Elizabeth. Maybe I’ll send her an E-mail.
** “The Grey Lady” is the nickname journalists have for the prestigious, much-revered New York Times.