I no longer experience this phenomenon very often these days. When I was a child, though, it happened on a regular basis. A friend I was playing with would attempt to execute a cartwheel, tumble sideways against a dining room chair, giggle and say "phooey beans!" and I would feel as if someone had thrown a switch inside my brain. First would come an eerie sense of physical separation, followed by a shock of familiarity as if I had witnessed every detail of this action with this exact same person before, expletive and all.
Sometimes the focus of my experience would be a place-- someplace I was supposedly seeing for the first time: a house surrounded by a brick wall accessible through an iron gate, a brick house half-covered in ivy with an abandoned wasps' nest attached to one of the eaves. Had I lived there once? Visited someone who did?
I did not tell anyone about these episodes. Neurologists might claim I was experiencing a type of seizure. There are many different types of seizures I've come to find out since working in special education.
As a young adult in the late sixties I tended to ascribe these episodes to sudden links with a previous incarnation. Back then, we "radical thinkers" made a point of believing in just about anything our brainwashed, hyper-conforming parents rejected as utter nonsense.
I still don't dismiss the idea of reincarnation though I don't believe that being born with cerebral palsy into a family of poverty-stricken alcoholic parents is the result of previous bad karma.
To tell the truth, I miss my deja vu episodes which were kind of like taking a mild dose of a mind-altering drug. Some wise person (Carl Jung? Joseph Campbell?) suggested that humans possess a basic need for metaphysical experiences. In many primal cultures such experiences are highly valued and can even be induced without the aid of a substance such as Jimson Weed, Peyote or Cannabis Sativa.
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Sometimes you'll meet someone for the first time whom -- you're convinced -- you already know.
This happened to me only once with my friend Sherryl. I, who am incurably socially awkward, felt no discomfort whatsoever on first meeting her -- none of the initial concerns such as: should I refrain from profanities or obscenities? downplay my irreverent humor? steer clear of controversial subjects?
I knew Sherryl instantly and she knew me. From the onset we conversed as if we'd been friends forever. When Sherryl was dying of cancer, we were both convinced we'd see each other again but not in some celestial afterlife of harps and frilled clouds. Neither of us specified exactly how this future encounter would occur because we didn't know. All we knew is that our connection would somehow be preserved.
Magical thinking, some would say, a way of coping with a painful separation, with death.
It is important to be able to demonstrate what is so and what is not so. Science is, and ought to be, the basis for making decisions that affect the course of human events. But it's also important, I think, to let oneself be confounded by the sheer majesty and mystery of human existence.
Thus, deja vu can be a neurological glitch, a synaptic collision of short term and long term memory. Or it can simply be... deja vu.
In any case, Sherryl said when we met again she'd have a cup of coffee ready for me.