Running Into Your Past

“Look, it had to happen at some point. In a city of eight million people, you’re bound to run into your ex-wife.”       — When Harry Met Sally   

The other day I decided to upgrade my phone to something that with a screen large enough that my aging eyes could see without squinting and a battery that might stay charged longer than a few hours.   I was shocked to find that they would send someone to my home to set it up.  I don’t need to spend hours in the AT&T store followed by hours of me trying to download stuff?  Sign me up.

Anyway,  the guy gets to my house and he looks super familiar.  “Do you remember me?” he asks, before reminding me that we volunteered together at a local radio station a million years ago.  We hung out in the same group and would often go out socially. I hadn’t thought about this guy for at least 20 years, but he reminds me of our connection and it all comes flooding back.   And then I think, what are the odds that someone I knew 20 years ago would randomly show up on my door step to set up my phone?

I have no clue, but it did make me reflect on connection.  All the ways your life intersects with someone, then it doesn’t,  and they’re mostly out of your thoughts, but is the connection ever really broken once it’s established?

The phone guy also lives in my neighborhood, and has for a long time. It made me wonder how many times I’ve been walking down the street, or eating at a restaurant, and someone looks vaguely familiar to me — something I experience  from time to time — and it’s because I actually know them from a long time ago and don’t make the connection.

Recently I was setting up a meeting for work and the person said we used to work together in the 90s.  Her name was vaguely familiar but I didn’t really remember.  Then when I saw her, coupled with the knowledge of that past connection, I instantly remembered her.

I saw a study where the researcher estimated that the average person knows 300 people by first name (and those people are presumably much better at remembering names than I am, because I’d be hard pressed to identify 100 people by first name).  If you and those 300 people were all in New York walking around Manhattan on the same day, the researcher estimated that you would have a 12% chance of randomly running into someone you know.

Even though this is how Harry met Sally, I’m not sure if I believe this statistic.  But I have had weird instances of running into people.  Once I was walking alone down an almost-empty beach in Nice, France.  I see a solitary guy walking towards me, and as he gets closer I realize it’s one of the other 30 people I was with on a semester abroad.  We were all in London at the time, and randomly we’d both taken a weekend trip to Nice, and ended up at the same quiet beach, at the same time, without knowing the other person would be there.

This happens to all of us: you meet a college friend at a random airport, you see a former coworker at a concert,  you realize you and your cousin are both visiting the same city the same week, you run into your ex-boyfriend in Las Vegas.  Then there’s the semi-awkward catch up conversation, the “It was good to see you, I’m glad you’re doing well” goodbye, and possibly a lingering sense of sadness that you once really were connected to this person, and now that connection is long broken.  Or is it?

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