I respect that one reason humanity has rituals that effectively tell people something they already know (e.g., you graduated high school!, you got married!, you retired!) is that even major life changes that were entered into consciously and with great effort do not necessarily work their way into our self-conception unless they are prominently reflected to us by others.
A friend who was a new mother told me a story of her first play group with her son, who toddled tentatively, took a tumble and then cried out “Mommy!”. She instinctively looked anxiously around wondering where on earth the child’s parent was. The women next to her said “He’s yours isn’t he?” snapping her into awareness of how her life had changed forever.
Another example I have seen repeatedly is a long-time renter who finally buys a house. The first time the boiler bursts or the sink pipe breaks, the owner reaches for the telephone feeling sorry for the miserable landlord who has to fix the problem and then realizes that they themselves are the poor sod in question.
The experience of this sort I remember most vividly happened at Stanford Hospital. As a new arrival, I went to the appropriate sub-basement office to get my photo ID. After they handed it to me, I turned the wrong way leaving the office and entered the maze that is our medical center. I finally found a staircase but it wasn’t the one I had come down and I went up too many floors to boot.
I was immediately anxious thinking “I’m lost in a hospital, I’m going to get in trouble.” I walked further and realized I was in a cancer ward…Oh Geez this is really serious now, I’m really in big trouble. I started walking faster, thinking it wasn’t visiting hours and I had no business being around these grievously sick people and I just needed to escape before someone called security and had me thrown out.
I entered a long hallway and saw exit doors, but there was a nurse’s station on the way. As I got closer I saw it was occupied! But she’s looking at her notes so maybe I can slip by, but then, oh no, she’s looking up now and looking right at me, staring at me intently in fact. I am thinking desperately what to say “I got lost! It was a mistake! I meant no harm! Please just let me go and it will never happen again!”
And then she shocked me by smiling and saying “Good morning doctor”.
I literally started to turn around to see who she was addressing and then realized she had been staring at my name tag. I mumbled a response and walked out, trying to suppress laughter at my own expense.
Ever had a moment like that? What was it?