Have you ever been driving in your neighbourhood, hanging around your building, grabbed your coffee at your usual place and seen someone that you’ve seen a thousand times before. Someone that you recognize, someone who you call the fat guy with the comb-over or the cute girl with the red hair. You are aware of them, you see them all the time, but you don’t know them at all. These people are called familiar strangers. My familiar stranger is a skinny girl that walks everywhere in my neighbourhood. I see her at least three times a week walking in the neighbourhood. If you asked me her name I couldn’t tell you. If you asked me where she lived I still couldn’t tell you, but if anything happened to her I would be upset, maybe even shed a tear or two. She is a complete stranger but part of my experience of my life and my community. Sometimes I will make up a history for her just driving along. Maybe she is graduating high school, getting ready to go to college, she walks everywhere because she wants to do her part to save the planet, but it pisses some of her friends off because it takes her forever to get anywhere. Why do I care? Strange that I care about strangers. Maybe as humans we need to compartmentalize everything, put it in its own box, label it and store it away like a busy bird collecting colourful ribbons for its nest.
I realized I have other things in my life that parallel this familiar strangeness. Like my connection to historical events or places. I just recently went to visit my parents in the city I grew up in. Seeing my old elementary school brings back memories I haven’t had in decades, the look and the feel tend to be off now though. Familiar but strange. I remember it different. Has my brain evolved or was it always like that? Do we remember what we want to remember? I watched a great TED talk on this subject about memories and how they can be planted, changed or just plain forgotten, you can see it here.
Even cleaning up under my stairs this past week opened my eyes to my clouded memory. I found pictures and journals I’ve forgotten about for over ten years. The people in them look so different, strange to me. That guy used to have hair, that guy is dead, I don’t even know who that girl is! It is funny when you get older what you tend to remember and what you tend to forget. I guess there is only so much that can be stuffed into our little brains and what can’t be remembered is made up, usually to the benefit of us feeling better about ourselves.
Familiar or Strange, remembered or forgotten we will make it up anyways. So be nice to me because you may be the nicest person in the world, but to me you’re an asshole. Hey, that’s how I remember it, deal with it.
So if you see that familiar stranger, tell them about this blog post as an ice breaker, find out their name, you never know, you’re probably their familiar stranger too.