Have you ever had a moment like this?
You are at the rink, at the mall, waiting in line at the airport, and someone taps you on the shoulder and says ‘hey, are you so-and-so?’
‘yes’, you say but don’t recognize the other person.
‘It’s me such-and-such, from hockey/elementary school/track’.
You do the math in your head and realize, the last time you talked with this person was grade 6, before you went to different schools — and that was 20 years ago. You’re not friends on social media, so it’s not as though you can see what each other look like now. And now you sort of recognize them. But — how did they know it was you? Last time they saw you, you were 92 pounds, not even five feet tall, a little kid!
Between now and then, so much has changed. You grew up. Went to junior high, high school, university, worked a few different jobs, lived in different cities, travelled some, had some loved ones die, maybe got married, had some kids, divorced, were sick, tried new sports, hobbies, read a thousand books, got interested and jaded by politics, hair started going grey, got taller, bigger, stronger, smarter, more mature.
You’re a sophisticated adult now… right?
When you think back to the you in Grade Six, you don’t even recognize yourself.
Isn’t it strange, that somebody else does?
This begs a few questions. How much have you really changed? Do we perceive ourselves to have changed more than others do? Is all the maturity, all the growing up, an internal illusion, that we project on our own screen, our own narrative about our journey through life? Or is it just a commentary on how good our brains are at recognizing faces?
Meanwhile outside, people, through the beard and grownup clothes, still see the kid. A kid we don’t think about a whole lot. What was that kid like? Do you remember?
This happened to me a while ago and it struck me as strange that I was recognizable twenty years later. I’m thinking back now to the person I was then, which is something I don’t know if I’ve ever really done in earnest. I wanted to be a pro hockey player and a writer. I liked reading R.L. Stine books and water-skiing. I was terrible at art, and loved cross country running. Nobody I knew had internet, and we would watch the same handful of movies over and over on vhs (Goonies, Ghostbusters, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Return of the Jedi) — going to Blockbuster to rent a movie was a huge Friday night, to the actual theatre was the sort of thing you might do only on somebody’s birthday. I was afraid of junior high. We listened to ‘Thriller’ on vinyl and read Archie comics out at the Lake. My friends and I spent a lot of time playing hockey, road hockey, or running around on the hill near my house, building forts out of sticks, getting incredibly muddy. At recess and lunch we had incredibly competitive soccer games, gym class was life or death serious, it was even a race to be first in line to leave the classroom.
Get to know that kid. Because you still are that kid, even if you don’t know it.