In his message to me, Slade writes, “I barely recognize you anymore.” Without going into his logic, or my loss, I would like to explore the word “recognize” because it contains assumptions about the world and about the speaker’s relationship to that world.

The root is gnoscere from Latin (and gno in Indo-European), which means “to know,” and is found in reconnaissance, reconnoiter, gnosticism, and other words that have to do with knowing or learning. So co-gnoscere would have the “co” for “with” or “together” and the “re” means this co-knowing takes place again. The way we’ve used words for the past hundred years makes it seem as if “cog” is somehow the root of this word, which isn’t really harmful because it also ties together the concept of cognition and mental processing.

The word comes from O.Fr., from L. recognoscere “acknowledge, recall to mind, know again, examine, certify,” from re- “again” + cognoscere “know” (from co- “with” + gnoscere “become acquainted;).

The list of definitions shows that the act involves knowing, accepting, approving, or admitting something or someone, often a thing or person that was known before.

  1. To know to be something that has been perceived before: recognize a face.
  2. To know or identify from past experience or knowledge: recognize hostility.
  3. To perceive or show acceptance of the validity or reality of: recognizes the concerns of the tenants.
  4. To show awareness of; approve of or appreciate: recognize services rendered.
  5. To admit the acquaintance of, as by salutation: recognize an old friend with a cheerful greeting.

You can forget a face or a place, but the act of recognizing it involves an act of re-knowing it, and realizing that you do, in fact, know this place. The act of recognizing is active, requiring some amount of mental effort (or cognition) to place new information (odd face or place) into a context of prior knowledge, weaving the past and present into one reality, or recognition.

In other words, recognition isn’t a passive activity; the new information doesn’t recognize the passive you, but you and your mind have to do the activity to arrive at a re-cognition.

To return to Slade’s statement about barely recognizing me any more, his words suggest that he is able to weave the new Joyce information together with his long history with George, but just barely. The “barely” suggests a feat that’s achievable, but dangerous and extremely trying, and I picture Slade hanging from a ledge, and while it’s technically possible to pull himself up, it’s not worth the effort. Maybe it’s not a very long drop, or maybe his fingers are giving out, or maybe the goal of being safe on the ledge simply isn’t all that attractive any more.

In other words, I think he’s trying, but it sounds as if the effort is too much — the mental activity of making two very disparate sets of facts make once set of sense is overwhelming him, and his choice, sadly for me, is to give up on this work, perhaps taking the route of nostalgia and the safe, known, and unified past over the disjointed, dangerous, and confusing present.

And I don’t blame him. The struggle that he is abandoning sounds a lot like my own struggle to integrate my old ways, including retaining all that was good about me, with my new ways, new body, and new challenges. And believe me, I am struck by the very same thought Slade voices, that “I barely recognize myself these days,” but unlike Slade, I don’t have the leisure of turning away from the mental struggle to re-learn myself. The ledge on which I had been hanging jutted out over an abyss, and while it was tempting to let go, I felt (and continue to feel) that pulling myself up was worth it. It’s a struggle I undertake every day — I am in a constant process of self-re-cognizing, as I have to make sense of new relationships, feelings, physical sensations.

I have to share with you, dear readers, just how frightening and difficult this process can be. Sometimes I feel like a traveler in a strange land, yearning for the comforts of home — I barely know the language and the customs, and some days are downright alien. But some days (and increasingly, a lot of the time), I feel as if I do belong in this land, that I’m no longer a visitor, but perhaps a permanent alien who might some day feel like she was actually born here. This process of becoming familiar with my new self is the process of re-cognizing who I am, actively weaving together memories, thoughts, and habits from my past with the daily sensations of the present and the hoped-for citizenship of the future. It is not something that can be done passively — it takes work, persistence in the face of setbacks, and hope that the integration I seek will be recognizable to my self and to others.

Friendship, like recognition, takes work — active work — to nurture the ties, understand each other, and accept mutual changes. If we treat our friendships as passive, self-propelled relationships, we will arrive at a time where our friendships barely exist. If our friendships are worth having, it seems to me they’re also worth the work.