Some of my favorite encounters in life are ones with people who don’t remember my name. Now, let’s be clear. I don’t remember every person I meet and I certainly don’t remember everyone’s name. However, I have what some might call catlike reflexes. I have gotten pretty good at pretending I know who someone is. When I was a Drum Major in high school, I would have this experience quite often where someone from band would say hi to me in the hallway or smile at me while leaving school, and because there were 180 members of the band, I didn’t always know who they were. There were a lot of flutes in the band. Now, when this would occur, I had a few options:
- Jerk my head away and immediately begin walking in the opposite direction at a quick, brisk pace.
- Look bewilderingly at them and mumble something indistinguishable.
- Smile and say, “Hi!”
Golly gee, when you put it like that, the choice is very difficult, isn’t it? Sometimes, I even threw in a generic greeting like, “Hey girl!” “Hey buddy!” I find that speaking like I’m Fat Albert, “Hey hey hey!” is a great choice to alleviate tension. There are a myriad of options.
I’m not always perfect at this. There are days when I somehow manage to look through people and not respond to their greetings until a full 3 seconds have passed or when I’m exhausted, I have on occasion spent 5 seconds trying to figure out where I know someone from. Overall, I have been on the receiving end far more than the giving end.
There are a few reactions over the years that have been my favorite.
- Look at me with a blank face, saying nothing and giving no acknowledgement that they heard what I said.
- With a straight face, no hint of a smile, they tell me they don’t know my name.
- Awkwardly dodging my gaze and pretending they couldn’t hear me.
- Giggling for a moment. Silence. “What’s your name?”
- Silence. “Um. Hi?”
- Stuttering different sounds to see which one I respond to. “D-d-d…no…T-t-t…nope…”
You get the picture. This isn’t an individual problem; it happens to all of us. I only wish that our culture were more comfortable with acknowledging the existence of others even if you don’t know their name. Sometimes I play a game on campus where I smile at people I don’t know, just to see their different reactions. I see a variety: fear, bewilderment, astonishment, mocking, the entire range. My favorite, however, is when they look at me and smile back. I’m calling for a social movement here where society will come to acknowledge people other than their roommates or people they know directly.
Or perhaps I will simply fall back into the mindset of the masses, where people walk around with their eyes glued to the ground, dodging glances everywhere they go. Perhaps I will choose to only talk to people I know and ignore everyone else. Maybe I’ll choose to live as a hermit and only talk to my plants.