A co-worker mentioned that her assistant was leaving. A few days later she was talking to another friend about problems in her office and said that her assistant wasn't even talking to her any more. My initial reaction was complete shock--I couldn't imagine that sweet lady who I had never seen without a smile ever working up enough bile to refuse to speak to someone. My second reaction was disappointment with myself for having reduced this woman to a unidimensional stereotype, essentially to the Cheshire Cat's smile. I wonder who else I have unconsciously done that to.
So after that happened I sat back and sort of took stock of the people I know in various contexts--work, soccer team, parents of my kid's friends--and tried to assess how much I actually know about them, whether I've given them credit for having complex emotions even if I've never directly seen evidence of them. At work there seems to be only one guy I've essentially written off as being hopelessly bland. Maybe there's some passion hidden under the exterior there; I simply haven't seen enough hints of it for it to occur to me to even wonder.
I thought about this a little here, a little there, and then moved on. This morning, as I ambled down to the lunch room for more coffee, I saw the Cheshire Cat lady heading toward the office where she had worked. I was surprised but figured she had changed her mind and reconciled with her boss. She wasn't smiling and, in fact, sported a somewhat apprehensive look. She was looking right at me, so I called out a hello. As I approached her she asked which office belonged to her boss... at which point I realized it was a completely different woman. Apparently I had never seen the original woman at all. I only saw the smile.