Out of Context

I remember when I used to see my teachers in the supermarket, how my pulse would race and I would want to scream from the top of my lungs, “BUT YOU’RE NOT SUPPOSED TO BE OUTSIDE OF SCHOOL!” It was unnatural for those scions of the school community to be outside of the red brick walls, wearing normal people clothes, and living normal people lives. I thought only normal people were allowed to do that, but I guess I was wrong.

You see, we have a context for everything and everyone we come in contact with, and usually that context is the original one with which we encountered them. When the time comes that we inevitably see them outside of that context we are often thrown for a loop like I was when seeing my teachers in the supermarket.

What seems like a long time ago I too was a teacher, and I had many students go through my classes year in and year out. Well, after they graduated I would run into them occasionally and they would give me the same look I gave my teachers way back when, like I was an alien with three heads. I work at Target now, and there are several of my former students who have been hired recently, and they still call me “Mr. McManus.” They can’t bring themselves to separate the context I’m now in from the one they first met me in, and they probably never will be able to do that. I don’t mind, not really, I guess. It just goes to show that I made an impression in another lifetime and they can’t put that out of their minds now when they see me.

My wife grew up in a small town where everybody knows everybody else, and we live in that same town right now, so we often run into older folks who knew her when she was young. She still calls every single one of them by “Mr.” or “Mrs.” because that’s the context in which she first knew them even though she herself is over 40 now. It’s a sign of respect, but it’s all because that’s how she knew them growing up, and it’s difficult to change perception no matter how old you get, perhaps because of how old you get.

I told someone the other day that I had written two books, and that I’m working on the next one right now, and she was shocked because all she knew about me was my love of music and that I’m an avid reader. Maybe also because she didn’t really know anyone else who wrote, much less who was published. But she apologized to me for making an assumption based on just what she already knew about me, that she could have been amazed by my writing skill. I told her to hush because she knew me in 15 minute increments and just at work. It was contextual, her knowledge of me, and she hadn’t really assumed anything. It just hadn’t come up because of that context.

That’s true for everyone we come in contact with in our daily lives because absolutely no one is two-dimensional. We all live in three dimensions where we can be a variety of things, and where we can have skills and hobbies that are wide ranging. And it’s funny when others are surprised by seeing us “out of context,” but it gives us just another excuse to show them how layered we truly are, and to discover just how layered they are as well.

Sam

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