I’d like to think that I’ve grown up a fair amount since high school. Once I left the suffocating bosom that it was, I found myself in countless compromising positions that tested the very foundation of my morals, but I emerged with a much greater sense of self. I guess that’s what they call “maturity,” the vague term we use to describe those older and wiser, but I’ve come to see that the word has less to do with age and knowledge than it does with self-acceptance—that time and knowledge are tools to help you understand yourself. So I guess in this self-centered pursuit, it’s only natural that we sometimes forget that people around us are changing too.
There’s a girl I’ve known since kindergarten who has an endearing nature, but which also lends itself to sometimes being reliant on the approval and company of others. I remember the very same girl who needed to be walked home by her boyfriend after school every day and who loathed being in public alone. It’s as if our perceptions of the people in our lives stay suspended from the last we’ve seen them, that because I haven’t spent a significant amount of time with this girl since high school, in my mind, four years later, I still see her as the 18 year-old girl I knew. So when we finally had lunch one day, and she updated me on all things college, I was surprised to hear she actually “enjoyed shopping alone sometimes” and “preferred one-on-one meetings.” The idea that people change, you might say, is a very “duh” concept, but then why is it that we’re still surprised when it happens? If I’m not the same girl who hated mushrooms and threw tantrums at my mother, then how could I assume that those around me are still thoroughly the same?
Indeed, to paraphrase Dosteovsky, what makes us human is our ability to surprise. We can guess the trajectory of a plant’s growth with much accuracy, and even anticipate an animal’s next move based on its environment, but no matter our faith in psychology, humans are unfailingly capable of surprise. So to forget that someone has the ability to do so is to strip them of their humanness.
We might all be guilty of that crime at some point or another. I know I am. When a quiet girl a year below me in high school who was never even in my periphery grew up to be a web-famous gif artist, I knew I had forgotten to see her as someone with the vast range of opportunities and possibilities as I had. And so I leave you with the same words that my college English professor left my class on our last day, “Look around you once in a while, and don’t forget, you might think you’re the hero/heroine of your own story, but you may just be an extra in someone else’s.”