Wednesday, September 14, 2016

I Cannot Remember

You come toward me in the library, or the grocery store, or at the book store. Maybe we run into one another at the local CVS. You greet me and talk to me about your family, my family, or something you saw I wrote on Facebook, or maybe my blog. You know who I am.

I know I know you. I have seen you and spoken with you and maybe spent time by your side volunteering to sell chicken 20 years ago when the local fire department did that sort of thing. Maybe we went to high school together and we sat through Ms. All's geometry class.

And darn it, I cannot remember your name. Many times I don't even know how I know you. I just know I do.

Maybe I had a college course with you, or we took a continuing education seminar somewhere. Or I wrote an article about you. Or we were in a service group together, working for the betterment of some cause or another.

Over the years, I've served in and worked with many groups, and written more stories about people in my locality than I could ever recall.

I have over 500 friends on Facebook, and I do not know all of these people well. But I have been in the "public eye" as a former news reporter; it means people know me (or think they do) even if I don't know them.

Even people who read my blog think they know me. Some do.

Most don't.

So we greet, and we talk. I ask standard questions: how are things going, how's everyone in your life (I used to ask after the family, but that doesn't always work). If you look about my age, I might ask if you're still working, hoping for a hint because you'll say, no, I'm still working at ABC, or oh yes, I retired from DFG last year.

But frequently all I get is "yes" or "no" and so I remain clueless. I wish you a good day, urge you to stay out of the heat, and head on to wherever I was going.

I will recall your face many times in the next few hours, and you will haunt me for the rest of the day and maybe into next week, while I try to think of your name - which will come to me at some point, when I least expect it. I will be putting away laundry, maybe, and I will shout out, "Oh, she was XYZ!" Then I will be relieved because I made the connection.

I do not have prosopagnosia, which is an inability to recognize familiar faces. I know I know this person; I recognize the face. But maybe I have some form of it.

I do not remember your name for any simple reason. It is not, I assure you, because you do not interest me. I am interested in everyone I meet - I wrote your life stories for a living. My inability to recall your name has nothing to do with you. I know as soon as I see you that you're someone super special, somebody I ought to know things about.

And I still can't remember your name. I am so sorry. Once I make the connection - which might be a week later - I will know everything I'm supposed to know about you. I will.

That will be too late, of course. And it might be months before I see you again.

Sometimes this makes me look like a nut. Once I introduced my mother-in-law to someone I was sure was a certain person, only to have the person stand up, sniff, and say, "I am NMOP!" and walk off in a huff. Because I introduced her as "JKL."


Or I ask how the job at the bank is going, because I feel sure that is where I know the person from. "I work at the library," she will say.


I found a test for recognizing famous faces here. It's called I scored 64%. Most people average 85%.

So I am a bit low in facial recognition, even for celebrities. I also noted when I took the test that I have more trouble with female faces than with male faces, though the test doesn't point that out. It was just something I realized while I was trying to figure out who was who.

This has bothered and frustrated me for years. I mean, I could see someone week after week sitting at his desk in some office I visited regularly, and then not remember his name when I run into him at the drug store. He's not where he is supposed to be. Apparently I associate names and faces with places.

According to this British article, "once you realise that recalling names is just intrinsically harder than recognising faces, you need not be too hard on yourself for forgetting your neighbours’ or co-workers’ names anymore."

It's a psychological thing.

But dang, I wish I could remember who you are.


  1. I had a brilliant memory but chemo erased a lot sadly

  2. I thought I was the only one that had recognition problems like this! But often I recall the name about 5 minutes after the person has left.

  3. I'm average! 85% But that amazed me. I do NOT have a great memory for faces. I will have to remember your line "How's everyone in your life." I always struggle with the "how's everybody" question, not knowing who is married, who is divorced, who had a death in the family, etc.


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