I don’t have any sentimental notion about how people are going to remember me. ~Billy Corgan, musician/songwriter
Summertime. A time for rest and rejuvenation. A time to be out and about in our small, three-degrees-of-separation community. More time spent in local shops. More time visiting our local nature haunts, camping nooks, and hiking spots. More time out among community and its members. Including former students.
For the record, I am extremely introverted and relish my privacy. My nonworking outfit often involves dark sunglasses and a cap pulled down over my brow. And I don’t go out of my way to say “Hi” to former students, like walking across five aisles in the supermarket to ask them how their first year of high school went. When I do pass a former student in the grocery store, on the street or waiting in line at the theatre, and our eyes briefly meet connected by an immediate recognition of acknowledgement, and then…nothing. Well, that is not an entirely true assessment; I will (if a remember their first name) say, “Hey ______, how’s it goin’?” An acknowledgement of the other. Of a past relationship. Of a shared past experience. Of a past connection.
Even within the innate and deeply primal visual acknowledgement there is often the look-away. In these moments, I am frequently overcome with emotions of shame and embarrassment. Why does this seemly insignificant micro-interaction (or rather lack there of) bother me so? What is the shadow behind my defensive reaction?
I know. I know. It shouldn’t. Jeff, it’s on them. It’s their shit. It’s their insecurity. Maybe they truly do not recognize you; you do have your sunglasses and hat baseball cap pulled down low, you know? Maybe they are embarrassed that you didn’t recognize them at first? Or embarrassed that you might ask how they are doing and they may not have an honest reply?
We’re hardwired for connection. There’s no arguing with the bioscience. But we can want it so badly we’re trying to hot-wire it. ~ Brene Brown
OK. Sure. I’ll give them those possibilities.
But what about those times when I acknowledged the other, and the immediate reaction is less than personal? It’s happened before. Commenting like “Hey” or “S’up”; offering the briefest of nods; ‘pretending’ not to hear or the worst of all–completely ignoring our chance meeting in front of the deli counter while waiting to order 200 g of Cervalat salami.
We have been told that the mind can be a dangerous thing. It loves to make up stories about circumstances in our lives of which we don’t have a full understanding. In lieu of details, the mind will weave its own narrative. It’s a coping tool that is designed to prevent us from experiencing vulnerability.
When this ‘contextual amnesia’ occurs with past students, the stories that my prefrontal cortex creates are: Are they ashamed of me? Do they think that they’re better than me? Do they believe that I’m a part of their past which they choose to disregard and look only ahead?
And on and on…
Indeed, I have some work to do around this niggling vulnerability. Do I have a need to hot-wire a re-connection with these people? I do know that I must reassure/reassert myself that, in the moment, I honoured this person by offering to connect (albeit briefly) with them in the middle of a busy Canada Day crowd. And that this engagement is even more spectacular given the simple fact that I have taught well over 2500 students in my twenty-two years in education. I have forgotten more faces and names than most people will ever know. I should be taking strength in this truism. Or is it just a flimsy excuse for my insecurity?