Does anyone else have this problem?
You just can’t imagine an old friend or acquaintance being something other than what they were when you knew them.
I could possibly call it “the Older Brother syndrome,” but this isn’t an issue of birth order (nor am I referring to those issues). Instead I recall the story of the Prodigal Son.
Now the man’s older son was still out in the fields working. He came home at the end of the day and heard music and dancing. He called one of the servants and asked what was going on. The servant said, “Your brother has returned, and your father has butchered the fattest calf to celebrate his safe return.”
The older brother got really angry and refused to come inside, so his father came out and pleaded with him to join the celebration. But he argued back, “Listen, all these years I’ve worked hard for you. I’ve never disobeyed one of your orders. But how many times have you even given me a little goat to roast for a party with my friends? Not once! This is not fair! So this son of yours comes, this wasteful delinquent who has spent your hard-earned wealth on loose women, and what do you do? You butcher the fattest calf from our herd!”
The father replied, “My son, you are always with me, and all I have is yours. Isn’t it right to join in the celebration and be happy? This is your brother we’re talking about. He was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found again!” (Luke 15:25-32, The Voice)
Surely that’s just an example of jealousy and envy, unforgiving attitudes and grudges. But I think there is something more there as well.
I look at a yearbook and I see the faces of my former classmates. I call one or two to mind, ones that stood out to me, that I have even stayed in touch with over the years. But you know what I picture in my mind? I picture them when they were most influential and prominent in my life– whether that be a kid in 2nd grade, a middle school friend, or a fellow senior before graduation. Am I alone in this? Is it hard to imagine such people growing beyond your personal experience?
It always comes in the form of a funny story told by parents. They are at the grocery store or the mall with their child, when suddenly they hear a gasp! “Look,” a little voice murmurs, “it’s Mr. Stone!” Sure enough, there is the school art teacher making his way down the aisle or riding the escalator. The parents wave, Mr. Stone waves back, but the little 1st grader is utterly amazed. “I thought he lived at the school!” They just can’t imagine Mr. Stone being outside of his bubble. It’s mind blowing.
I have a friend that I got to know in middle school. When I first got to know her she went by the name Katie and had dark black hair. Over the years, though, I came to find out that she was actually a blonde. And then Katie changed her name to Shannon, for personal reasons. Nothing terrible, just changes over time. It’s been a few years since I saw her last, but you know what name comes to mind every time I think of her. Katie. (And I even wanted to type “It’s been a few years since I saw Katie, but…) I still picture her with her dark black hair, in middle school or high school, the Katie I once knew, not the Rose who is my Facebook friend.
I couldn’t stand the Transformers series, not even because of criticisms of Michael Bay– but simply because anytime I saw Shia Labeouf, I thought of Louis Stevens from the Disney TV show “Even Stevens.” I loved “Even Stevens,” thought Shia was hilarious in that role– but couldn’t take him seriously in anything for a while, because he made such a jump.
Go ahead. Picture a few people you have known throughout your life. Do you see them as they are now (appearance, age, personality, etc.) or as they once were– or a mix between the two? I could be totally alone in this, but I imagine other people struggle with this too.
A while ago, in a session of rabid Facebooking, a thought came to mind. What is I met the people from my senior class now? What were they like when they were younger, outside of my sphere of awareness? What are they like now? What journey are they on? Who are they really? Who is Jonathan Horton? Did I really know him at all?
I wrote a while back a post on how we are all Absorbians— beings that absorb the things around us and bring them into our existence. I don’t mean physically– you and I aren’t a bunch of black holes or vacuum cleaners. But we absorb everything from information to memories to fears and the personalities of friends. Some of these things are stored in our head, our heart, or our hands and influence the way we think, believe, or live.
And one of those absorbing tendencies leaves us with encapsulated personalities. We take our first encounter with a person or a few years of interactions with a friend or a lifetime of memories with a loved one and we create a capsule or pond of information– the most important, influential details float to the top of the bubble and the rest settles to the bottom. Then whenever we have to go fishing for memories, certain ones come to mind quicker than others.
The older brother couldn’t picture his brother as someone new. The father believed his son had undergone change. He said that he was “lost” and now he was “found.” He reconciled two different pictures of his son, and he loved both of them.
I know I need to allow people to change. I need to remember Katie as Rose. I need to accept the adult I once knew in 2nd grade. I should wave at Mr. Stone as he walks by. It’s just hard sometimes. Sad sometimes. Scary sometimes. And just plain surprising sometimes. Almost to the point I can’t believe it. “That person is married?!” “They became a teacher?” “No way!” But as long as such surprise leads to joy and not envy or anger or more older brother symptoms, I guess it’s okay to let a little surprise into my acceptance of change. If the Father can do it, I know I must. And I can try, so can you. Let’s change– and accept change– together.