Maybe nametags implanted at birth would solve the problem. I know that some religious fundamentalists warn that the anti-Christ will embed computer chips under our skin as a part of his plan to take over the world, but I wouldn’t mind just a small label somewhere on the forehead.
You’ve surely been trapped in something like this scenario:
“Mr. Bradbury! I haven’t seen you in years! How have you been?”
Okay, that narrows this person down to being a former student. The face is familiar but her shape has shifted a bit. I throw my improvisational skills into gear. . “Yeah! It’s been . . . how long now?”
“Well, I graduated in ’84.”
No help. I don’t know years. You tell me what play you were in and I can narrow you down a bit, but years are just numbers. “So. . . you look great!” This is a lie since I obviously can’t remember what she looked like in ’84.
“You do, too! Have you seen any of my old classmates?”
How in the heck should I know? I can’t recall the name of this solitary former student standing in front of me in the Burgoo line, so how can I possibly remember the entire class.? Lie number two: “Oh yes. I occasionally see a few here and there.”
Stupid, stupid, stupid. I should have foreseen what would come next. “Really, KB? Who have you seen?” Caught. . . like a rat in a trap. I make a feeble attempt to steer the topic of conversation onto the weather or the chances of the football team in Friday’s game. I doubt that I’m convincing.
In recent years this conversation has often ended with the mysterious lifelong friend telling me to get in touch with them on Facebook. There may be a “Face” in the word Facebook, but to find anyone you need her name. Lie number three: “Yeah! I’ll to that tomorrow! Hey, it’s been great seeing you again!” . . .even though I can’t remember seeing you the first time.
Even theatre teachers have their critics when it comes to acting. I sometimes travel with a sidekick, a young man named John Love. He delights in seeing me squirm my way through these stumbling-for-names situations. John sees me completely at a loss and flashes a knowing smile, enjoying every moment of my suffering. On more than one occasion he’s stood behind the stranger as I tried to fake my way through the conversation and he’ll give me a silent thumbs up or thumbs down as to how well I’m doing. I can’t remember my last thumbs up.
My father has this theory that as we grow older we don’t actually forget things, we simply have more to remember. It sounds a bit like an excuse to me, but until I come up with a better alibi, I’ll buy it. Nearly forty years of teaching and untold thousands of kids. . .surely I can be excused a miss or two.
A young man knocked on my door during the Arenzville Burgoo. I hate to be unsocial but after standing for five hours on a concrete slab serving pork chops and marching in a very fast-moving parade with the Illinois College contingent I was ready to sit and rest, not stand and chat. But of course I walked out onto the porch and listened to the young fellow talk to me about how he’d dropped out of high school, taken a series of dead end jobs, and had now enlisted in the Army in hopes of getting his GED and making something of himself. He wanted to thank me for not kicking him out of class like so many teachers had done. It was heart-warming, it was sincere, and I had absolutely no idea who I was talking to. In my defense, the young fellow had added a growth of beard since his Jr. High days and had undoubted grown several inches. Darn it, I would genuinely have liked to know whom I was talking to.
He left promising to write. That’s good. People usually sign their name to a letter.
My students tire of me giving them the “I forgot” lecture. It goes something like this: “You do not forget, you simply don’t care enough. The things we care about, we remember. Have you ever forgotten to play in a ballgame or have you forgotten to attend prom? No! Because you care about those things! The secret to ‘remembering’ something is to care about it.” Thank God no former student has ever thrown this tirade back in my face when I failed to come up with his or her name. I care. I really do. I just . . . forget.