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September 22nd, 2010

re-reading old stories

Recently I've seen a few folks with whom I used to work. Law firms are funny places, but I think that all places are funny places. As story-telling animals, I believe we're almost all more or less hard-wired for the obsessions with inter-personal politics that the workplace can involve. Time tends, for me, to blunt and soften the view, like a really flattering gauze lens. When I see someone, years later, I see the aging, yes, but I hear the person speak, and a rush of familiar feelings washes over me. Feelings of petty injustice and personal humiliation give way to a kind of warmth of the known. I am fortunate that any maltreatment I received was not serious enough to be embittering, and the kindnesses I received were palpable enough to be ingrained.

A woman with whom I used to work once aptly pointed out that I assumed that I knew things about her that I did not actually know. I think this is true in more than the narrow sense. We see people in their "work faces", but a lot of people have a lot of dimensions. Workplaces, too, involve a kind of labeling and sorting, as people who do not fundamentally understand one another continually reach dozens upon dozens of small, tentatives understandings. I've always felt a lot of sympathy for SETI because I think we all seek out intelligent life everyday. If I could see that particular co-worker again, I'd say to her that she was right in every respect, and I did not know her at all. I regret easy assumptions. At the same time, the facts I did know were puzzling--and yet why assess them? Just let facts wash over me, and avoid bathing in assumptions.

In a Charles Dickens novel a lawyer and his barrister's clerk meet each other in a social setting, and are taken aback, because they are such different people outside the office. Yet when I meet old co-workers, years later, I am less taken aback then filled with nostalgia, nostalgia even despite imperfections, nostalgia without reason, or hope of renewed communications, or any certainty other than the certainty of a wave of feelings, experienced inside.