The Jury is Still Out on My Memory
I recognize that I am among the most fortunate people on Earth. I have had a great career in television, and that has opened the doors to meeting a variety of interesting people and making numerous acquaintances. It's one of the perks of being in a visible profession.
I have become quite comfortable with visibility, but it has at least one drawback, and that is this: the number of people who know my name is greater than the number of people whose names I know.
I'm not bragging; in fact, I wish it were not the case. The good news is that I have garnered a wide circle of contacts with whom I have worked, served, and dialogued. The bad news is that as much as I want to, I just can’t remember all their names. I have tried name memorization techniques such as saying the person's name five or more times during a conversation, as in "It's great to see you, Dave! Tell me, Dave, how are your kids, Dave? Are you, Dave, still with the same company, Dave?" I've tried the trick of associating facial characteristics with names: Let's see...Mr. Isaacs...Isaacs.. eyes ...what about his eyes?...bushy eyebrows...bushy... "I'm sorry, Mr. Bush, what was your first name again?"
I have read remarkable stories of geniuses whose miraculous minds can recall names with ease from a short personal encounter, but for me, try as I might, a single meeting (or even two) is usually not enough for those names to become second nature.
Several years ago my wife Barbara and I attended a large church in the Seattle area where she and I were involved in many programs, which helped broaden our lot of acquaintances. We appreciated the opportunity to make multiple relationships, though it led to a few near-embarrassing moments. Often Barb and I ran into familiar church members at the supermarket or the shopping mall or at our kids’ school. As they approached, my wife and I sometimes appealed to each other out of the corners of our mouths, “Please tell me their names.” And the reply to each other was often something like, “I think it's Tom and Susan. No wait, it's Ted and Cindy. Oh, I can’t remember.”
Just the same, we smiled, pretended, and carried on friendly conversations with them, knowing that we'd surely be on a first-name basis if only our absent-minded memory banks could just recall those names. Some might find that disingenuous, but it always turned an otherwise awkward encounter into a pleasant one. Even so, we were repeatedly relieved when we finally managed to escape without having to reveal that even under threat of torture or a court order, we would never have been able to disclose the fellow church members’ identities.
Of course I never dreamed that the day might come when a judge would actually issue such an order.
I was called for jury duty to my local courthouse. Having been summoned once before, I knew the drill, and spent an entire morning with my nose in a paperback novel, breaking for lunch at noon, then after the break gathering with others in the building’s spacious lobby, waiting for proceedings to recommence. It was there that I ran into a couple from our church and struck up a conversation with them. It was a sociable and enjoyable few minutes, and as we parted, we wished one another well.
I couldn't remember their names, of course.
Once back inside the jury room, I was whisked almost immediately into a courtroom with a group of other juror wannabes to be questioned as potential panelists in a civil case. Upon entering the chamber, I saw at the plaintiff’s table the man and woman I had talked to minutes before. They smiled at me and I smiled back at them. I never suspected what was coming.
After some preliminary instructions, the judge then asked a logical question, but one I had not anticipated. “Are you jurors acquainted with anyone you see in this courtroom?” I realized that his question applied to me, and I raised my hand.
The judge looked at me, and for the rest of my days on earth I will never forget his next words. “Without pointing to anyone in the courtroom,” he said, “please tell the court the name or names of the person or persons with whom you are acquainted.”
It took a moment to register what the judge had just ordered. A name? I didn’t know a name. I didn’t have a clue. No plea. No defense. My mouth went dry as I stared blankly at the black-robed authority figure on the bench.
Staring back at me over his glasses, he raised one eyebrow as if to say, “Hello in there? Earth to juror, come in please.” My eyes drifted over to the couple at the table. Coincidentally, they had on their faces the same eyebrow-raised look as the judge.
Finally I spoke nervously and weakly. “Uh… your honor, I’m afraid I don’t know their names.”
I could almost hear my heart beating in the silence that suddenly permeated the room. My face was on fire as I looked over again at the couple sitting there. The woman still had the same look on her face, except her jaw had dropped a bit. Her husband was looking at the floor, slowly shaking his head. All of a sudden, being visible didn’t feel very comfortable at all.
The judge, after what seemed like an eternity, finally looked down at his notes, cleared his throat, and continued the proceeding. He went on to spend several minutes questioning others in the jury pool before dismissing some of them. Apparently he was a merciful judge, because he included me on his list of excused candidates, and I made a quick exit.
After that day, I hoped to see the couple at church so I could apologize and attempt an explanation, but I never ran into them again. Perhaps they were making an effort to stay out of my line of sight. And honestly, who could blame them?
I thought about calling them. I even rehearsed a little speech of apology. That would have been a potentially viable plan, except for one lamentable fact: in order to find a specific number in the phone directory, you usually have to start with a name.
© Nick Walker 2018
Have you ever had a similar experience? What techniques do you use to remember names? I'd love to hear your thoughts. Please scroll down and leave a comment below.