Jim Bishop | Facing up to some recognizable facts

I discovered, without really looking, that there’s a name for my latest malady.
I am suffering from – repeat after me – prosopagnosia (pros-uh-pag-NO-see-uh) noun.
It’s an inability to recognize familiar faces, possibly attributed to cognitive dissonance resulting from a brain injury, but that’s been a handy excuse for a larger recital of faults and foibles for years.

Not only is my ability to remember person’s names dissolving faster than a Kline’s ice cream cone on a sultry summer day, but now that appears to be coupled to the double whammy of encountering persons I haven’t seen in awhile and being unable to recognize them.

It happened again the other day as I was leaving a public meeting, in a hurry to respond to a cell phone call that came during the meeting from a reporter on deadline. As I rushed back the aisle, I thought I heard someone calling my name – I think I still know and recognize myself. I looked across the large auditorium and saw two persons waving in my direction.

But, with all the people around me, I thought they were trying to get someone else’s attention, and hurried on.

As Elvis and I left the building, I heard someone calling out, “Jim! Jim Bishop!” I turned around, as these same two persons rushed to catch up with me. No strangers, for sure, but rather a dear couple, neighbors of our from my home community in Pennsylvania whom I had worked for during my high school years and often when I’d come home on breaks from college.

I felt embarrassed and apologized on the spot for my discourtesy.

Even so, as we stood there and talked, I know they were wondering what is wrong with this doofus who acted like we were meeting for the first time. I wished that I could somehow turn back the clock several minutes and revise this scene from a bad movie.

This wasn’t an isolated incident. More and more persons approach me and start a conversation on any number of topics as I stand there wondering, who are you? It happened again several times last weekend as several thousand people converged on center campus for EMU’s commencement, and as individuals came up to say hello, I was once again speechless in Harrisonburg.

What prevents me from simply saying, “I’m sorry, but I can’t remember who you are?” Isn’t this preferable to pretending I do know and playing a game of pretend and pretentiousness?

Some time ago, I entered a fast-food restaurant, got in line, and the person in front of me turned around and started talking to me like we were former college roommates. We wound up sitting at the same table, eating our sandwiches and having a delightful time conversing on a host of subjects, and then bid each other “adieu.” To this day, I have no idea who he was.

Part of the problem has to be my poor attention span – my wife will vouch for this – my penchant for allowing the cogs in my cranium to slip as they turn, thinking “what’s next.” As someone else has rightly – or wrongly – noted, a good listener is usually thinking about something else. I know I am guilty of letting my mind out to recess too often rather than concentrating on what’s happening right now.

The prosopagnosiacs’ motto is, “We don’t take people at face value.”

That’s the worst aspect of this dilemma, because every person is important, and I don’t like to suggest otherwise as I’m losing face, as it were.

Rather, I yearn to be able to say without hesitancy, “I never forget a face.”


– Column by Jim Bishop

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