Out of Context, Out of Luck

digital illustrationIt’s no secret that I’m ‘bad with faces’. I struggle with what I know is only the mildest of cases of Prosopagnosia, but even my minor jot of that pestilential face-recognition inability causes me occasional discomfiture. More importantly, it has occasioned a moment or two of awkwardness for others when they approach me, knowing that I know or have at least met them, and I fail to recognize them or even register that I saw them quite recently.

I went to a family wedding once and, seeing a cousin I’d not seen often in our adulthood but knew very well in our youth, effused to her on reconnecting. And then I proceeded to do exactly the same with exactly the same cousin at the reception, not an hour later. I knew that I knew her and that she was my cousin, thanks to the occasion and other basic clues, but literally could not see that she was the same person with whom I’d just rejoiced in renewing contact. Even in this obvious setting I failed to see what was as plain as the nose on my face, never mind the should-be-familiar one on hers. My own cousin.

I am enormously thankful that there are people whom I have little or no difficulty identifying and recognizing no matter when or where, but they are not necessarily in the majority. Remove whatever clues to identity my peculiar mind relies upon for identifying a person—that distinctive mustache (especially reliable in the case of a woman!), a man’s unique carriage when walking, that heirloom necklace someone has worn since she inherited it at age twelve—and I am meeting the face attached to that person for the very first time once again. I suppose there might be a touch of the humorous in such a ridiculous predicament, if the person I fail to recognize knows about the situation and isn’t insecure about any failings on my part, but I would rather not have to muddle through the struggle of bridging that synaptical gap, especially in instances when I would rather be friendly and welcoming.

Even the fully operational brain doesn’t always work perfectly in this regard, as witness the lovely and very bright friend I encountered in the grocery store recently. We both took our time staring and sizing up whether the approaching person was indeed known as well as our brains were urging us to know. I, with my Prosopagnostic niggling sense that I needed to place her in a different context to recognize her as a friend from church, school and work paths crossing, was puzzled by my failure to connect the facial proportions and eye color and such with her identity; she, as it turned out, didn’t realize who I was because after knowing me only with my 20-years-established short haircut, she couldn’t place my features now that they’re set in this chin-length swath of hair. So many reasons we might struggle, and it’s rather common after all, but we still rail against the frustration.

But isn’t that just the way life works in general? Whatever our flaws and shortcomings, however valiant and well-meaning our attempts to ameliorate them and better ourselves and at least appear to be improving with age, there are bound to be gaps and mishaps. All I can say is that I’m mighty glad people are generally so patient and forgiving with me no matter what the situation or occasion, and I—well, I will just have to keep trying to put the best face on it.

13 thoughts on “Out of Context, Out of Luck

  1. You & me 2. Sometimes can be most disconcerting. I could never be relied upon to identify a criminal in a line-up, even if I had been the victim & certainly not a witness…

    • I imagine victims have the smallest chance of anybody of being entirely accurate in the ID dept, given the adrenaline and all. Hope neither of us has any conceivable reasons to test the theory. I’m just grateful if I can get through the everyday ordinary situation and recognize the people I’m *supposed* to recognize to get the necessary stuff done on a daily basis. Not so much to ask, and yet… 😉

  2. I remember faces just fine. It’s the names I can never remember. It was quite a handicap when I was a bartender. And forget about all of those word association tricks. I’d remember the clue, only to come up with a completely different name. Now, when I don’t know a person’s name, I cleverly call her/him Guy or Girl or You and they never catch on. 🙂

    • I’m pretty much past-master at dancing around the topic when it comes to names. When you put the two together it’s sometimes quite amusing! 😀 As long as it’s not mortifying. 😉

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