Back when I was a kid, I remember sometimes being my parents’ “Rolodex”, a talking version of their address book of friends’ names and addresses. I am pretty sure that is how Siri got her start. They did not even have to open their vinyl-backed green book, sitting on the telephone table in the hallway, they just had to ask “André, do you remember Matante’s number?” and the 7 digits would be automatically yelled out of my very blue bedroom. In retrospect, I probably should have charged them for the “411”. I could have made some serious money.
In high school, it was much of the same. I could remember my friends’ names, birthdays, phone numbers, as well as their siblings’ and parents’ names. In a few cases, I might have remembered addresses and if you were part of the inner circle, I probably knew your postal code by heart too since we probably sent cards and letters to each other, our version of texting in the 1980’s.
But something happened…
A few weeks ago I attended a communications course and during the introductions, the teacher asked us all to fill out a “My Name Is” sticker and stick it on our chests. The corners of my mouth turned up into a smile as I could only think “Bless your heart, Sister. Me too!”
As much as my brain gets a decent amount of fresh air, exercise, and regular workouts with numbers, languages, creativity, logic and walks down memory lane, and I fare well in all of them, there is just something about names that do not always stick reliably.
If recalling names or lack thereof is a genetic thing, then I come by it honestly. I remember my grandmother sometimes bounced a few different names from the family tree at us until she hit the right one. Mind you, she cooked with aluminum pots, so it was not entirely her fault. As for my mother, having been a teacher for so many years, with 30 kids in each class, then secretary/executive assistant to a cast of thousands, I certainly do not begrudge her occasionally pulling a name out of the past.
Plus add a little stress into the mix and our brains can play funny tricks on us. There was a team meeting several years ago, where I was trying to make a very important point backed up by an example involving a co-worker I had known for many years. As I was telling the example story, I completely drew a blank on her name. When I paused for a most awkward moment, she jumped in to my rescue and said her name. I apologized repeatedly after the meeting, but why would the name of someone I knew so well escape me like that?
Around that time, I started getting a little distressed when my memory for names started slipping, but then I realized I had to cut myself some slack given the encyclopedia I was accumulating in my head called “corporate knowledge” taking up a LOT of space, including the names of several hundred more people I dealt with over the years.
Then, add the names of the people with whom I volunteered, the people in my condo group, the people in my running club, my group of friends today, plus my partner’s friends. Add a few volumes of pop culture, television and music trivia and no wonder I cannot recall the name of someone who may have introduced themselves once perhaps two years ago.
The reality is that I now have considerably more names to remember than when I was 7 years old. No wonder I had the contents of the little green book so easily memorized.
Once I came upon that epiphany, it was rather easy to go with the flow, especially since I never forget a face. The name can come later… whether it is 5 minutes or 5 days after bumping into someone.
That being the case, I lost the shyness when it comes to going up to someone and saying with a smile but discretely, “I know we’ve worked together, but please remind me of your name” or “I know we trained for a run together, but your name escapes me, I’m so sorry” and offer a sincere handshake.
I know if someone said that to me, I would not be the slightest bit offended and I hope that it would be the same for others if the roles were reversed. Life happens and we meet a lot of people. It is just that given the “bookmobile” in my head, a few pages might get lost along the way.
If a name slips, it does not diminish the fun time we shared or something unique they brought to my life. It is just that over a half century, I am happy to say that the good memories with the many friends and acquaintances are in great abundance. I am extremely fortunate in that regard.
Whether you consider the “names thing” a fear of getting older, or a joy of getting older, it is something that many of us can bond over, and we laugh about it together, whether we remember each other’s names or not.
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