Dr. Thomas Lane Butts: Looking for Tony

A man was arguing with the ticket agent in the airport, insisting that he be given a seat on a flight that was filled. Brushing aside all rational explanations of the agent, the man became increasingly abusive. The agent's patience was understandably wearing thin. A crowd had gathered to listen to the exchange. Finally the man said to the agent, "Do you know who I am?" I love what she did. She picked up the microphone and announced, "Ladies and gentlemen, I have someone here who does not know who he is. Can any of you help him?"

I do not know what happened, but it is obvious that the man had an identity problem. He had an exaggerated idea of who he was. Gaining and maintaining our identity is a life-long task because we keep changing. You are not the same person you were ten years ago, or last year, or even a month ago. Every life experience changes us, sometimes in ways we do not quickly comprehend. There are times in which we are not who we think we are. We have changed and did not notice it, or if we did notice it, we were not able to correctly assess who and what we had become. There are experiences in which we looked into the abyss and failed to see that the abyss looked into us, and we were never the same again. Being out of touch with who we are is a painful and sometimes a dangerous thing.

Several years ago there was a fictionalized television drama of the life of Marilyn Monroe. No sensitive person could fail to be touched by the haunting tragedy of how much of her life was a quest for self-identity.

The drama started with a death scene which pictured her sprawled across the bed with her hand dangling over a tape recorder which recorded the last hour of her life. A young newspaper reporter discovered the tape and was puzzled over the fact that Marilyn Monroe cried out over and over, "Tony, Tony, oh Tony, where are you".

The reporter began to research her background trying to find someone named Tony, but to no avail. He went back to the record shop where Marilyn had worked and discovered that one of the girls who had worked there with her was still there after all these years. In the course of asking questions and suggesting things about Marilyn Monroe, he said something to which her former work-mate said, "Oh, Tony would not have thought that". The reporter was shocked to hear the name "Tony". He said to the lady, "I have been looking for this 'Tony' for over a year. You are the first person who has mentioned him. Who is Tony?" The lady replied, "Oh, I thought you knew. Tony was Marilyn's nickname for many years." All at once it dawned on this reporter that Marilyn's cry for Tony had been a cry for herself. This was the high moment in the drama, to see so graphically how this woman had found everything she could possibly want in life - everything except the one thing without which nothing else had meaning, "Tony". Somewhere along the way she had lost "Tony", the little girl she was before she became the idol of American beauty. And, in the last minutes of her life she was still looking for "Tony".

Finding and staying in touch with who we are is an essential ingredient of a meaningful life. The first day you look around and can't find "Tony", call for help. Without "Tony" life is not worth very much, no matter what else you may have.