It's been a long, long time since I was truly, face-reddeningly embarrassed. I spent many of my impressionable years suffering the slings and arrows of teenage humilation, but embarrassment is something we grow out of, right?
Or so I thought, until last week when my doctor sent me to a dermatologist for one of those lovely full-body exams, in order to determine if any part of me might need removal.
I'd never experienced this sort of thing before, but I'm a mature woman who has given birth to two children, and nothing fazes me.
So I stood in the center of the doctor's office, uncomfortably but necessarily naked, while she examined me in great, intimate detail. She looked at my scalp through my hair. She scanned my limbs. She lifted the--let's say--floppier parts of me and peered underneath. She looked between my toes. I apologized for the sock lint. "I didn't know you'd be looking there," I said.
One endures exams like this by telling oneself it's all, as Inspector Clouseau once said, "part of life's rich pageant." So I was fine with it, and when she finished I sighed with relief and retreated behind my paper gown and rustled myself back onto the examining table.
Then she sat across from me for our doctor/patient chat. And she said these words:
"So! You must tell me how I know you. I've seen you somewhere before."
Immediate acid flow into the stomach.
"I don't think I know you." Was that desperation in my voice?
"Oh no--I'm sure I know you from somewhere," she assured me.
"I am a teacher."
"That's it! I was just at parent night. I came to your class. You teach my daughter in two different classes, actually."
I remembered then, as the hot, hot blood flowed into my face. I had worn my professional attire and my teacher's nametag. I'd passed out handouts containing syllabi and course outcomes. I had fielded questions with the lingo of academia.
Now she was in her professional attire, and I was wearing a piece of paper. "Well, we've experienced each other's occupations, eh?" I managed.
"Yes!" She seemed to think this was neat--but all she'd had to do was read my handout and ask some questions while she sat in a student desk.
I'd had to stand like a naked Statue of Liberty while she browsed my underarm for moles.
If only she had told me this before the incident. I would have had a chance to run away, to find someone utterly anonymous . . . but regret is the pastime of fools, they say. I am a fool who has spent a lot of energy on this pastime.
So yes, embarrassment can still happen to people over forty. Perhaps it will happen again. There are only so many times in life one is forced to stand nude before a stranger, but are other vulnerabilities, things we don't want exposed and therefore run the risk of future red-facedness.
I shared this story with a colleague who was having a bad day. She laughed so hard she had to bend in half and hold her stomach. She said it was the funniest thing she'd heard in quite some time.
Glad to oblige. But just this once.