Thinking Out Loud

December 31, 2012

I Am Seeing Ghosts

She walked into my workplace and made very direct eye contact. There was a sign of recognition from her to me, and I did believe she looked familiar. But no name or context appeared as my brain scanned all available memory trying to place her.

She had a wisp of hair in the front that had recently been streaked blonde, contrasting with the light brown tint of the rest of her hair. “Do I know you with a different hair color?” I asked her. It was what I felt was a disarming way of saying, “Do I know you from somewhere?” But isn’t that an overworked pickup line?

I can’t remember with what words she brushed the question aside.  She didn’t offer her name, and I didn’t press any further.

The question was a little creepy, I’ll admit.  Fortunately, she didn’t bolt for the door, but kept shopping, eventually making a rather large purchase.  She looked so familiar, though.

I don’t think I had ever seen her before. Well, not her. I have reached an age where I am seeing ghosts, not in the sense of the spirits of departed people, but the visual twins to people I knew a generation or more ago.

There is a saying that, “When you get older, everything reminds you of something else.” Have I reached that age? That’s scary. Certainly it does seem lately that everybody reminds me of someone I was acquainted with when.

I keep seeing people who are Xerox copies of people from another time and place. The real people in question have aged, but unfortunately, my brain has not been online to receive any updates. The update would consist of seeing the same people as they are now, but that’s not likely to happen.

Before I got married, I drafted an elaborate theory on how there were only 17 facial types, only 17 available sets of eyes, 17 mouth shapes, 17 noses and 17 hair types.  I’m not sure how I came up with the number seventeen, but I believe the number of facial types was meant to take into account ethnic variances as well.  There was some rather lame comment at the time about most of the seventeen being white Caucasian because the others “all looked alike anyway.” I would not get away with that today, but those were different times. Apologies all round.

Combine this with two available sexes, and you are left with 2,839,714 people; so even within the United States and Canada, you’d be dealing with at least ten identical people.  So you don’t have a twin, you have at least nine just within North America if that’s your home.

But the twin thing multiplies when you factor in time. If you have nine look-a-likes now, it’s possible that you also have ten people who are ten years younger than you are right now, who match what you looked like ten years ago. But also that you yourself  look exactly ten people did who are — survival assumed — ten years older.  

Ghosts.  Everywhere.  Walking past each other at the beach, at the mall, at church, at the airport…

The worst case is the summer camp we do volunteer work at. The generation of people we knew now has kids of their own, who show up at the same camp. When I look at Sam (real name) I see Tim (real name). He/they is/are not the only example. The generations start to blend in a brain that is reeling as though  caught in some grand time travel experiment.

Other adult volunteers at the camp tell me our two boys look like me. I don’t see it. Not at all. I don’t say, “You must be crazy;” but I’m thinking they’re probably stretching the point, or maybe it is just that bad hair days (or weeks; years) run in the family.

Or maybe they’re seeing ghosts.



  1. This happened to me the other day. I was in a store and saw someone and thought to myself “Hey, that’s Ron!” Of course it wasn’t Ron. I hadn’t seen Ron for 15 years and if this WAS Ron he had not aged a day. Sadly, I am beginning to realize also that the self-image I have lodged in my own brain has changed as well. Someone posted a picture of me on facebook over the holidays and I thought “Is that my mother?”” Of course it wasn’t…it was the me that had aged unawares.

    Happy New Years Paul…may you be blessed abundantly as you run toward the mark!

    Comment by Cynthia Clarke — December 31, 2012 @ 10:09 am

    • I didn’t even consider the self-image part. Last night in our town five of the churches got together and hosted a comedy night. (Yeah, I should write about that sometime.) Anyway, before it started, I went to use the restroom, and while washing my hands underneath a large mirror, I discovered this restroom had very good lighting. Very, very, very good lighting. Not a happy moment. This would give an entirely different meaning to ghosts; something more related to October 31st than December 31st.

      Happy New Year back at ya.

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — December 31, 2012 @ 11:14 am

  2. Reminds me of the movie, “Eon Flux.” They were cloning people in cycle, so that only older people would recognize the younger versions of someone they knew which had died. But we do have to consider that everyone comes from the same place, and so variations on the same theme could be possible.

    Comment by J. Randall Stewart — December 31, 2012 @ 1:20 pm

    • Sounds disturbing. I tried to find it on IMDB, but only found Aeon Flux (2005), which didn’t mention cloning in the summary. Same one?

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — December 31, 2012 @ 1:33 pm

      • Yes, that’s right, Aeon Flux. That’s what happens when I try to do things from memory (ha, ha). Seems I’m having memory problems too. The cloning issue probably wouldn’t be in the summary, since it’s an important discovery for the audience later in the film. Hope I haven’t totallly ruined if for you, but it is a good movie.

        Comment by J. Randall Stewart — December 31, 2012 @ 3:51 pm

  3. Even more alarming a ghost was spotted in my home this morning. After staying up very late for New Years Eve (long after I had gone to bed), my son fell asleep on the sofa. When I woke up and saw him lying in the den, I said to myself “I wonder if I carried him upstairs if he would stay asleep” But then , as I walked toward the sofa, I remembered that he was 14 and taller than me. I had forgotten. In the nostalgia of Christmas he had seemed so little.

    Comment by Cynthia Clarke — January 1, 2013 @ 8:09 am

  4. Humorous to read, but not so funny when related to self. I’m pleased that other people (all possibly younger than I am, so without the excuse of old age) have the same experience. I must admit to seeing many people I know – whom I don’t know – every time I go shopping, and I also get quite a shock when I spot myself reflected in the glass at the shopping centre and realise it is me! I don’t see myself the way the glass shows me!

    On the other hand, actual people from my past often speak to me and while I remember their names and much about them, I have no recollection of them as they now appear. Yet they recognised me! Maybe redheads don’t change as much in appearance as others?

    Comment by meetingintheclouds — January 2, 2013 @ 3:18 pm

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