I rounded the corner at work and saw my father standing at the copy machine. Momentarily frozen in place, I thought, “but he died 10 years ago.” Then the copier repairman turned slightly, confirming my mistake. A woman on the train seemed to have stepped out of my high school hallway. She was the girl whose fashion bravery I envied. But it couldn’t be her. A familiar face, posture, or movement sparks recognition for me, even if there is no possibility I am correct. Sometimes I see ghosts. Not the scary, haunting kind, but people I know. Walking down the street, on the train, in the library. A familiar gait or posture. People who have no business being there, and yet they are.
Maybe those people are on my mind – I’ve run across a picture or they appeared in a dream – and it prompts me to connect that thought with someone I see. I’ve read that the ability to find similarities is an important skill we carry over from our early human days. Seeing similarities can be a shortcut to understanding the world around you so you don’t have to go through a lengthy process each time you meet someone, or assess a situation. If it looks like something you know, you can respond quickly (friend? foe? danger?).
Although I’m not sure what wilderness I’d have to roam where this ability would come in handy, it pops out in an annoying way when I watch movies or TV. An actor is immersed in a role, but I’m thinking I recognize him from something else. Two different times I was watching old movies and was startled by the same person. Marilyn Monroe in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is surrounded by adoring male dancers and one of them looks so familiar. Then Rosemary Clooney in White Christmas, and there was that dancer again. What? Then it hit me – he’s the leader of the Sharks from West Side Story! Though my discovery is not unique, and is documented in IMDB, it’s how my brain works. Almost everyone can look like someone, or remind me of someone, and occasionally, it’s true.
Maybe those are loose threads in my woven memory that need to be tucked back in. Or it’s how I make sense of the sensory overload in the world around me. Any day I set out I wonder what memory will accompany me. People far away, or passed on, they can still come along and will give me a unique perspective on the people I see.