Grace, the letter z, and a queen bee

by Radio Somewhere

Someone once told me that my name (Suzanne) means “grace.” I disputed it, because the dictionary we had at home when I was a kid had a section on names in the back; and the entry for Suzanne was simply “French form of Susan.” So I looked up Susan and found “a lily” — something which I remember disappointed me rather. I told this to the person accusing me of grace — only to be told that lilies are the flowers present at funerals — because they represent grace. This conversation transpired in the unlikely setting of a busy toy store close to Christmas. I can’t recall exactly who the other party was; probably my boss — but could have been a insightful customer. Anyway, the setting is sort of relevant to this.

In a very different conversation elsewhere, I was told to use my full name as much as possible. Although my family had called me Suzanne as a child, as I got older I somehow became Sue, and that was the name my husband and his family would use. So, by the time I was forty, I was Suzanne to colleagues and coworkers, but Sue to family and friends. But then I found myself separated from my husband and starting a whole new life in Seattle where no one knew me — and I was urged to take the opportunity drop the Sue appellation and be true to Suzanne.

The letter z is important — so I was told — and is the reason I have this name as opposed to Susan, which was a very popular name for baby girls in the early 1960s. I had always assumed that my parents chose the French version just to be different — but then, my dad was a typically stubborn Englishman who could get never quite get past the traditional hatred for the French — so I doubt it had anything to do with francophilia. They probably just liked the idea of giving me a name that was in step with the times — but spelled a little more interestingly. Apparently, the letter z indicates a life beset with heavy challenges — and I have been Suzanne every since.

The conversation in the toy store close to Christmas was actually about “grace under pressure”, as one might imagine. It’s a concept which bothers me — because, quite honestly, I don’t think I am blessed with it. At some point, I do get overwhelmed. And it worries me to consider that if I can’t handle the pressure of a crazy toy store at Christmas, then surely I would be useless in a real crisis — where lives are at stake.

I hope that if ever I am at the scene of a horrible accident, and a busy paramedic asks me to help by elevating someone’s limb and applying pressure to a bleeding wound, that I will be able to rise to the occasion and stay calm — even with chaos around me. I hope that a rush of adrenalin will summon me to action.

I’ve never really been tested. The closest would be the time when I captured a queen bee. I was visiting my boyfriend’s family in Scotland. It was springtime, and a very large bee found its way into an upstairs bedroom. Looked like a queen bee — with very swollen abdomen. Knowing that queen bees aren’t exactly known for being solitary, we immediately began to fear a swarm showing up — and everyone panicked, especially my boyfriend’s sister, who had a young baby. Well. I didn’t panic. I went to the kitchen for a beer glass and then rummaged in a few piles on the way back for a sturdy sheet of card. And while the rest of the household huddled at a distance (including the yellow-bellied men), I approached the bee quietly, managed to get the beer glass over her, and then slid the sheet of card between the glass and the window pane where she was hanging. She was HUGE! Then I carried her ever so gently downstairs and then to the end of the garden where I set the glass down and then ran back into the house and slammed the door shut. I was a bit of a hero — and my boyfriend immediately insisted on treating me down the pub!

I used to watch a lot of M*A*S*H at a time I was busy collecting used DVDs. It was when I was in another retail job where I wasn’t always “grace under pressure” — and contemplating scenes of Hawkeye working under impossible conditions up at the front made me feel I must be seriously flawed as a person — if I could not always be “grace under pressure” in a retail store, in peacetime, with no gunfire or mortar shelling, and no one in danger of dying.

I have to hope that deep down in my soul, I’m just rather discriminating about what constitutes a real crisis — and that retail crises (most of which are extremely superficial and always setting off false alarms) are just not the kind of pressure which brings my grace to the surface.

I have to hope that if I’m ever called upon in a genuine crisis, that I will remember my name, and that it means grace, and that it’s spelled with a z — and that I will be able to rise to the occasion.