I've written a little about face blindness (prosopagnosia) before. It's something I didn't realize I was afflicted with until late in life, though once I learned what it is, I realized that I've had it as far back as I can remember. I had just thought that I was particularly incompetent at recognizing people. When I was a teenager, I think I irretrievably insulted one of my best friends by failing to recognize her when I passed her in the street. This wasn't after a hiatus of 40 years and lots of changes—we'd last seen each other maybe a year before. But I had moved to another state, and did not expect to see her when I did.

Life for me was filled with little traumas like that. It was especially difficult when our children were young and I spent a lot of time volunteering in their activities: whether it was a church choir or a school group, people expected me to be able to recognize my students, and I often could not. That's tough when you're a field trip chaperon trying not to lose anyone!

Just last night at church I "passed the peace" to one person twice, not realizing that we had already greeted one another.

We prosopagnosics develop all sorts of compensatory tricks. My voice-recognition is particularly strong. When we're watching a movie, Porter amazes me with his ability to recognize actors who have played in other movies or shows—and he's still amazed that I can't. But let me hear the actor's voice, and I usually make the connection before he does. I have one friend I run into every year or two at the grocery store. Fortunately, she's a talkative person, either on her phone or conversing with a fellow shopper; hearing her voice before she spots me has saved me great embarrassment.

Other strategies involve recognizing people's hair, glasses, way of walking—anything but the face. That works well ... most of the time.

This past Maundy Thursday, our rector, who had for months sported a fairly long hairstyle with loose curls, walked into church having been shorn like a sheep. I truly had no idea who he was. This was before the service, and he was working up in the altar area. I thought maybe he was a new altar server, or perhaps a member of the Vestry whom I didn't know.

Then he spoke.

It still blows my mind that other people get the same instantaneous recognition from a face as I do from a voice.

I really hope I never have to give testimony as a witness to a crime. But if you plan to do something stupid, be sure to change your appearance, and don't talk. You'll be safe with me.

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, May 10, 2019 at 7:25 pm | Edit
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It's much harder in Gambia (as you probably realized), where everyone's hair is the same color and where women change their hairstyles really often. I recognize a lot of my friends from the distance by the way they walk.



Posted by Kathy Lewis on Wednesday, May 15, 2019 at 5:23 pm
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