I Have to Forgive You
I work behind the circulation desk at a small suburban library. While most of our patrons are lovely, considerate people. some of them are anything but. While attempting to help the public, I’ve been yelled at, cursed at and called every rude name in the book.
From the 8-year-old who snarled “Bitch!” when I told him that he couldn’t eat popcorn in the stacks to the elderly gent who howled “I wish a malignancy on you!” when I broke the news that he couldn’t check out any more DVDs until he paid his hefty fines.
And I have forgiven them all.
I’m face blind. I am unable to recognize people. No matter how awful you were to me the last time you came to the library, when I see your face again I won’t remember that last toxic encounter.
Face blindness is real. There’s even a Latin name for it. Prosopagnosia. There’s a part of the brain (the fusiform gyrus) that is devoted to facial recognition. If you have Proso, that part of your brain doesn’t work.
I See You All The Time. So Why Can’t I Recognize You?
I’m sure this has happened to you. You run into someone you know, but she isn’t where you’d expect to see her. Your…
You can get right up in my face with the worst attitude in the world — but the next time I see your face I won’t recognize you. Even if I’ve seen you dozens — or even hundreds — of times, when you turn up to check out the book you’ve put on hold, I’ll have no idea who you are until I scan your library card.
I can’t retaliate for the way you treated me the last time you were here because I have no idea how you treated me the last time you were here.
When you’re face blind, everyone gets a clean slate.
We face blind folks are the friendliest, most forgiving people in the world. We have to be. Since we never know whether you’re our best friend or our worst enemy, we’ll greet everyone with a smile, just to play it safe.
Yes, it’s a little disconcerting, after enjoying a lovely chat with a patron about the book she’s just returned, to scan her card and realize that she’s the bitch who went ballistic on me last week when I told her that she had to pay for the dog training book her new puppy ripped to shreds.
Or realize that the fellow I’ve just spent half an hour helping with a research problem is the same dude who wrote a nasty note to my supervisor last year demanding that she fire me because I had the nerve to require that he go back out to his car to get his library card before he could check his DVDs out.
Over time, I have learned to be amused rather than annoyed by these little ironies.
I’ve learned something else too — most people deserve a second chance.
Treating even the most toxic and annoying people with a little kindness isn’t a bad idea. In fact, forgiving their bad behavior usually turns out to be the right thing to do.
Maybe they were so awful to me the last time they were here because they were having a really bad day. Or they failed to understand the situation. Or they were, for reasons that I’ll never know, a firecracker just waiting to go off — and I unintentionally lit the fuse.
My experience as a person with Proso has taught me that you can reset relationships. Someone will blast you. But if the next time you see them, you’re friendly and courteous, they’ll often respond in kind.
Sometimes, they’ll even apologize.
“I’m really touched that you’re being so welcoming to me after I was so awful to you the last time I was here,” a patron told me recently. “I was really rude and I’m sorry.”
Of course since she had yet to hand me her library card, I had no idea who she was. But I accepted her apology anyway.
I can’t claim that I forgive you because I am a wonderful and enlightened person. I forgive you because I have no choice. I have no idea who you are. But I hope that if they ever figure out how to cure my face blindness and you came to my library after having behaved like a jerk, I’d still find it in my heart to forgive you.
Until then? When you visit my library, I hope you’ll forgive me for having no idea who you are.
( Writing Coach and Medium Sherpa Roz Warren writes for everyone from the Funny Times to the New York Times, has been in 13 Chicken Soup for the Soul collections, and is the author of Our Bodies, Our Shelves: Library Humor . Drop her a line at roSwarren@gmail.com.)