As the saying goes, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”
To that, two stories about first impressions.
These are my stories.
I first became aware of the Harry Potter phenomenon around 2000 when the fourth book in the series was set to be published. As much as I like reading, I was most definitely late to the tale of The Boy Who Lived. Since, at the time, I was casting about for a new sci-fi or fantasy series to latch on to, I decided to pick up the first book written by J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.
From the start of this book where I learn about the family on Privet Drive to the mystery of the 9 3/4 platform to the rules of Quidditch, I am enthralled by the world Rowling created. However, while her words entrance me and her story keeps me turning the pages, I am less than awed at her mastery of crafting a deep plot. As I turn the pages, it is so glaringly obvious to me who the villain of this tale is that I expect an orange neon sign to appear at some point spelling out the letters S-N-A-P-E.
I am not going to say that my jaw hit the floor when Rowling unveiled who the real nemesis was, but my mouth did open in surprise when she revealed who was standing in front of the Mirror of Erised trying to obtain the McGuffin…er, Stone.
I went back through Stone and reread all the bread crumbs Rowling had left in the pages she wrote that should have pointed me to the true aide of He Who Shall Not Be Named. I was stunned and amazed – and a tad red in the face – at the sheer genius of Rowling’s work. The way she flipped my expectations was a joy to behold and to learn about the world she created was a privilege.
When I cracked open her second book, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, I saluted Rowling but I also let her know that I was on to her game and she would not surprise me a second time.
I was wrong.
My admiration for her grew and continued all the way through the end of her series.
My first impression was wrong and I was pleased with the result.
In my youth, I attended a Jewish summer camp. One of the traditions of this camp happened before we ever set foot on the grounds of the camp. Before boarding the buses that would take us to our summer getaway, all the kids would mill around the parking lot of the temple that sponsored the camp. Campers would each receive a name tag with their name, their assigned cabin, and what bus they would be taking. The tradition is to walk around the parking lot and try and spot how kids will be in your same cabin.
Okay, it is my tradition. I can’t speak to what the other kids did.
One summer (and my memory is quite hazy on the exact year as it could be 1978 or 1980), I am meandering around the temple parking lot looking for other name tags that bear the name of my cabin (which I think might have been “Carmel“…oh sure, that I can remember!). I walk towards one boy who with thick round glasses, thicker dark curly hair, and has a Midwestern accent that slices through concrete. I silently pray that his name tag will bear the name of a different cabin and then realize that the Lord has a sick sense of humor when I do indeed see that this doofus will be sharing a cabin with me.
“Oh well,” I think to myself. “Every cabin needs its idiot and here he is.”
In the parking lot, the trunks are loaded into the buses, parents kiss their kids good-bye, the campers march into their buses, and the large yellow modes of transportation snake their way towards the camp. Once at the camp, another tradition is the Welcome Lunch where all the kids in the same cabin sit together at the same table and share their first meal (which was usually cold cuts). At my Carmel table, I look around and am pleased (and mystified) that our resident doofus is not at the table. Not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, I turn to my neighbor and strike up a conversation. It is here where I meet a guy we’ll call Andy (because, as per the rules of this blog, that’s his name) and we hit off brilliantly.
I’ll fast forward to a week and a half into our four-week camp session. Andy and I are in front of our cabin chatting about something (probably related to Dungeons & Dragons, I’ll wager) when I mention to him about the missing doofus from the parking lot. He tells me that he too saw a kid on that first day who also had a name tag for our cabin. Andy lets me know that he also had a gut reaction on seeing this kid and thinking to himself that this guy was a serious loser. However, Andy says, he hasn’t seen that moron since the parking lot.
When I make mention that the doofus had these thick glasses, Andy contradicts me. No, Andy says, the loser didn’t wear glasses, but he did have blond hair. Now it’s time to contradict him as I state that the doofus had curly black hair….
…just like the type that Andy has. And Andy wears glasses also.
The Stick of Stark Realization magically appears and whacks us both stiffly across the heads before vanishing in a *PUFF* of haze.
It dawns on us that in that parking lot, we both walked past each other and both of us sized the other up in an instant as a doofus/idiot. And for the past ten days that we had become friends, we never realized what our first impression had actually been.
No, I have no idea why neither of us recognized the other during that first lunch, but maybe it is because the Lord does indeed have a sick sense of humor. And He laughed and laughed.
We spent the rest of the camp session building our friendship and laughing about our out-of-whack first impression of each other.
And we still laugh about it today, because even after 37-39 years, I can still count Andy as one of my friends.
Which reminds me that I should really call that doofus back. He left me a voice mail last week and I haven’t called him back. I can be an idiot like that at times.
Those are my stories.
P.S. You know Andy, too. As to why…well, that’s a story for another day.