Walking in to work one morning with Tracy, another group of employees were heading out. One of them is a lady I’ll call H. H and her co-workers were in charge of a county work group – people working off minor crimes and misdemeanors through community service work. As such, H was dressed in grungy work clothes; baggy jeans, old boots, a sweater, down vest, hair tucked up under a baseball cap, everything looking worn out and dirty from use.
I’d talked to her before on a normal, “I’m here to fix your computer” basis, but before she started with the work crews, so I was used to her wearing business casual clothing, very conservative business casual clothing. In fact, H struck me as conservative in personality, friendly but mostly quiet and polite and practical.
Even that morning, seeing her in completely different clothes, after I had the shock of recognition, I didn’t see her as anything other than a co-worker whose computer I’d fixed from time to time. She recognized me and said “Oh, hi, Brian” and I said good morning back to her.
Tracy asked me about her, later, and after my memory had been jogged (it was eight hours later when Tracy had asked) I told her.
Tracy mentioned that H, even in no makeup, struck her as very beautiful. Tracy mentioned a resemblance to Jennifer Garner.
I gave Tracy a look, because, as I said above, I had never seen that in H at all. H was older than Ms. Garner, for one reason, and there’s a mental space that movie stars occupy that’s separate from the space everyday people occupy, which is why it’s difficult sometimes to recognize a star encountered unexpectedly on the street (have I ever told you the story about flirting with Heather Locklear?) As Tracy’s thought percolated my mind, however, I could feel my perspective shifting a little bit. Remembering H in the previous setting and clothing I knew her from, I joked, “She could probably pull off the ‘sexy librarian’ look!” Tracy agreed whole-heartedly. But eventually I shrugged it off.
The next night I had a dream about H. An intimate one. It startled me. I laughed about it the next day with Tracy, who offered me a high-five in return.
“Right! ON!” she said.
Later that day, I was leaving the county motor pool and I saw H again. She was crossing the street heading in to the parking lot. She was dressed similarly (or exactly; the clothes are so generic I couldn’t tell the difference). As she walked, her back to me, I noticed that her hair, even though it was pulled through the back of the baseball cap and held with a Scunci… it was very long, hanging down to her backside (hidden, dammit, in the oversized jeans). Again, I felt the contradictory mental images of her clashing, in this case several images: H in make-up and glamorous Hollywood clothes (like Jennifer Garner); H in generic business casual clothes (the librarian before she lets down her hair and takes off her jacket that hides her curves); H in glasses, a white blouse, and short skirt, hair flying wildly (sexy librarian post-revelation); and H as I saw her before me, in dirty grungy baggy work clothes, but with her hair falling down her back.
Trying to reconcile all these images, I nearly rear-ended a Porsche Boxster S. While driving a county car.
A shifting perspective is a wonderful thing to experience. Even if nothing comes of it, I’m going to remember that moment when my consciousness changed how I looked at someone else. I live for those moments; they are as special to me as moments of epiphany are to a spiritual or religious person.
So much of what we see is filtered through our expectations. Change your expectations and you can literally change how you see the world.
In this case, you can learn to see a hidden beauty you had never before noticed. The value of that shift is incalculable.