Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Face Blind

I pay attention to coincidence, or a better way to say it: I don't believe in coincidence.  It might be hard to  turn away from dazzlingly obvious coincidence, but for ages I let small things pass by, without giving them credit.  I've stopped doing that, and am paying attention.  

As I clean house, or do boring things, I like to listen to NPR programing on my iPod.  This week I heard a story about 2 men who are face blind (Prosopagnosia ) on Radio Lab.  Face blind is a condition where a person can not discern one person's face from the next, or if they know the person, because they can not remember what they look like.  It is really debilitating because it seems that folks affected by face blindness have a huge hurdle when it comes to relationships with people. 

I was interested in this condition because I have had similar experiences with letters (Dyslexia).  I've seen individual letters, or letter strung together to make words for 34 years, but sometimes, it is as if I have never met that letter or word before.  It is interesting that I enjoy writing, as one might think it nearly impossible for me to write or read, but I can.  I can read and write, just more slowly than you.  I have made some adjustments so that you might not be able to tell that I can't tell the difference between "3BE",  how many "r's" are in arrive, and which way the hook on a "J" swings.  The folks on this radio program do the same thing, except with people.  

One of the men took the approach to stay in.  This way, he doesn't run into people.  Not being with people is his way out of awkward situations with his siblings, and boss.  He has to talk his way out of a lot of situations anyway, even if he does stay in.  He is a neuroscientist, so I'm sure he sees people sometimes and he has an assistant who helps him (he can do that, he's rich, I can't hire someone to read numbered exit signs for me, even if I were rich).

The other man does the exact opposite.  He treats everyone he meets as if he has known them his whole life.  He is outgoing and friendly, just in case he is speaking with his mother, but can't remember what she looks like.  He looks at everyone without condition.  He recognizes no one, and treats them as if he loves them.  I am sure, he still has to talk his way out of a lot of awkwardness, but the difference was striking.

This story was nagging at me because I could relate, on two levels.  The first I already mentioned but the other was more subtle.  While driving yesterday, I heard another story about a woman who fell in love with a man who is face blind (which ended badly, as you might guess).  Confirmation that it was no randomly nagging me.  Before Tuesday, I'd never heard of Prosopagnosia once in my whole life, and here it was twice in as many days. 

A light went on in my soul.  I am like the first man, mostly staying in.  You might not notice it, but I'm hiding it, and I can talk my way out of it.

I want to be like the second man.  It is more brave of this man even though he probably is as confused as everyone with this condition.  I want to see people for who they are each time I see them, even if I don't recognize them.  I get that it is a curse to not recognize people, but it seems that making the most of it, strong-arms you into being a loving person.

I have been stricken with my ability to put conditions on people I know, and people I love.  If I strive to live in the moment, then I have to realize I'm not in the moment at all,  and to love better.  The time I get with people is the time I get with them.  It is redundant, but profound.  A person with face blindness has to enjoy a person for the time they have with them, and try to treat them well.  They have to use tricks like I use to keep letters and numbers straight.  They have to be careful.  I'm admitting that I didn't realize how profoundly bad I am at loving unconditionally.

You can listen to the episode of Radio Lab here.

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