I find it comfortable to be in the presence of strangers. I enjoy the opportunity to meet new people. I thrive on the opportunity to learn about different places and different cultures. I rarely find myself lonely when in company of people whom I am not familiar with. Generally, it is easy for me to start a conversation with nearly anyone. Rarely do I feel lonely. The airport though is one place I most often feel the loneliest.
Even at the airport I feel the ease of conversing with people. I am captured by stories of where an individual may be going or what adventures await them at their destination. The first part of the trip is always easy, relaxing. These are strangers all around me. It is the layover and the second plane that usually causes stress to develop. Take for instance a recent experience that I had flying from the west coast to Minneapolis. After that, I boarded a small plane to take me to my final destination in a smaller community.
During the first flight, the lady on my left was rather chatty and very kind. She said that she would be on the next flight I was taking along with her sister. The man to my right was a business man dressed nicely and cautiously quiet. I enjoyed sharing conversation and quietness with these two individuals for the four-hour ride. Upon departing the plane, I knew I would see them both again soon. The man was expecting to board a plane only a few gates from mine. Due to a thunderstorm, all flights were delayed. I looked forward to finishing a conversation I was having with each of these individuals.
That anticipation to finish our friendly chat ended abruptly when I found an empty seat at the gate. I was lost in the sea of new faces. All of these individuals looked familiar, but no one looked like a person I had spent extended time talking to only moments before. In my haste of the flying rituals, I had not taken time to observe what the lady was wearing. There were several women sitting around in groups of two or more, so I could not effectively determine who might be sisters. The man was wearing khaki pants and a blue button-up shirt but so were a few other men. My traveling companions were now lost; I was once again surrounded by complete strangers.
However, being surrounded by complete strangers is different when you know you are familiar with people in the room. Due to conversations minutes before, you know they expect you to remember them. With prosopagnosia, seeking out faces of people I have just spent hours talking to becomes extremely difficult. Once we have stepped apart from each other, I cannot recognize these individuals. Nor can I meet a fellow passenger and say, “When we step off the plane say hello again because I suffer face blindness.” No, this would not be understood in a general conversation. Yet, it is still intimidating sitting near someone and beginning a conversation without knowing if you have just talked to that individual for hours.
“Where are you heading to?” This question can be answered with a look of concern and dread if it is the same lady that just spent two hours telling you about the anniversary celebration she has been so eagerly anticipating for this trip. “How are you?” This is a difficult question in case this was the man who just explained to you how he suffered a mild case of food poisoning when he was at his last meeting in Tokyo.
Yes, traveling is a fun activity I wish I could experience more regularly. However, with prosopagnosia the flight alone can create difficulties and loneliness. For, as I realize my enjoyment of turning strangers into friends, I realize it also can make me feel more lost and alone than ever. Maybe I will be lucky enough to meet you on the plane. Maybe you will be kind enough to share your stories with me. Please, if we are lucky enough to sit together, please do not be offended if I ask you where you are headed twice in one trip.