Thursday, February 18, 2010

Like Ships Passing in the Night

Recently, I received an email from an old friend. He had tracked me down after finding an article of mine that had been published online. In his email, he told me what he'd been up to for the last 35 years and said he'd been wondering what had happened to E. and me since the 1970s, when we all lived in Los Gatos, California.

I answered his email and we swapped photos. He appeared to be a nice-looking guy. But, staring at his picture, I didn't recognize the person I'd known all those years ago. Perhaps, had I seen him in person, his smile or body language would have made him seem more familiar. However, it's entirely possible that if I'd passed him on the street, I would have walked right by. Realizing this got me thinking about all the times I may have walked right by someone from my past life without knowing it.

This certainly could have happened with old friends from high school. While I didn't attend my fortieth high school reunion, in 2007, I later saw a video of the event. I hardly recognized anybody. My class was relatively small, about 300, and back in high school I knew virtually everyone by name. Not any more.

A few faces did stand the test of time and I would have known them anywhere, but in most cases youthful appearance had been obscured by the years. Whether it was weight gain, wrinkles, jowls, gray hair, or hair loss, these former classmates didn't look like anyone I'd ever met. A few women had clearly had face lifts, presumably in an effort to look younger. But the process of smoothing wrinkles had distorted their previously-recognizable features, making them strangers to me.

All of which leaves me wondering, would my old friends recognize me? Or would we simply pass one another on the street, unknowing, like ships passing in the night?


  1. Tonight in "zen" class we talked about whether we are "empty" of a permanent "self"... much the same as what you are describing. Maybe with enough hair transplants, face lifts, and gym visits we can remain the same, for a while, at least. At least for a moment.

  2. Really strange that you should mention this now. I am in the process of re-connecting with a bunch of old school friends that I have not been in touch with for the past....50 years! It started with 4 of us chatting on the Internet, and is now informally reaching 50 or 60 people, all girls, because it was an all-girls school (nobody knows what that means anymore, or do they?)
    Anyway, it has meant meeting in actual fact with a few, before the reunion, planned in June, in Cannes. I would not have recognized them either if I had walked by them on the street, but what you say about voice, facial expression and body language makes sense. The minute we started talking, it clicked. Recognition!
    However, I am pretty sure that it will be a one-day thing in most cases. But that has nothing to do with looks!