30 September 2011

"You Look Familiar"

The woman was a little older than I. My brain went into its Search and Remember Mode. We were standing at the entry way to a church north of Seattle. I was there because Uncle Frank had died. I was looking for his sons before things got started. I was also looking for Betsy. Betsy used to be a juvenile detention minister and a volunteer at the adult prison in Monroe. Now she works at this parish and we were going to spend a few minutes catching up.

"You look familiar," the woman said again. I looked at her face. I'd worked only with men at the prison for eleven years, no matter how often people thought I worked at the women's prison. It's only in the last fifteen months that I've worked with women on a regular basis, and this woman did not look like anyone I knew from the county jail.

Another woman came up to us just before I started to say something. The two of them together made the connections in my brain work faster. There it was: we are cousins. We haven't seen each other in a few years. We remade the connections and talked.

I came away shaking my head. These days, when someone says, "You look familiar," I immediately think of the jail/prison context. Forget family. Forget other places I've worked. 

I need to get out more often, I told a friend. "Or go to Vegas and cut loose," she suggested. Ummmm. No. I have a feeling that even in Vegas someone will find me and say, "You look familiar." So much for my fantasy of going somewhere, acting outrageous, and still being anonymous. Should have done all my acting out years ago. Who knew?


claire said...

It is really never too late, Shannon :-)

Sherry Peyton said...

What's even worse is seeing someone in a place that you would never expect to see them. You mind just goes dead. I've experienced that before. But context is so much a part of our brain it seems.

Elizabeth Mahlou said...

I love the expression, "search and remember mode" -- I think I will remember that!

Tele said...

Thanks so much for the work you do, Shannon. Though faith-based ministries don't resonate with me, I believe strongly in the value of simply being with people, valuing their humanity and their stories, and I'm thankful for your service. If you speak with Betsy again, or have a regular contact with her, please pass along my love - she generously supervised my detention practicum when I was in the MSW program in 2001. I'm not doing social work these days (fishing in Alaska, go figure), but it was a powerful time in my life and I'm grateful for her role as a mentor.

Best wishes, and be well -