Déjà vu. The subtle, recurring confusion between illusion and reality that was characteristic of paramnesia fascinated the chaplain, and he knew a number of things about it. He knew, for example, that it was called paramnesia, and he was interested as well in such corollary optical phenomena as jamais vu, never seen, and presque vu, almost seen. There were terrifying, sudden moment when objects, concepts and even people that the chaplain had lived with almost all of his life inexplicably took on an unfamiliar and irregular aspect that he had never seen before and which made them seem totally strange: jamais vu. And there were moments when he almost saw absolute truth in brilliant flashes of clarity that almost came to him: presque vu.-Joseph Heller, Catch-22
I have to admit that I've never managed to finish--or even really start--Catch-22 by Joseph Heller. Fortunately for me, my high school boyfriend did read it, and he found for us this passage that seemed to so perfectly describe the predicament of being a teenager that we scribbled it in all our notebooks, inside each other's lockers, on the bottoms of our shoes when we were bored in classes, any surface that seemed to call out for words of significance.
High school and the particular anxiety of being a teenager fades after a while, but this quote has stayed with me. I think about it often--probably more often than I realize in my conscious mind. I'm on the bus with my bags piled against my chest and the window fogged and it's warm and I'm tired and I drift a bit only to snap suddenly, terribly awake with my heart hammering and strange faces not looking at me and feeling that the bus is passing these strange buildings too quickly and for that single moment in time, I know with perfect certainty that I will be lost forever. I think, jamais vu.
Or take this past weekend--I was in Minnesota for a little parental TLC and to celebrate my birthday and proudly watch my brother rule the stage as McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. On Friday afternoon, my mom and I walked the dog through the Carleton College Arboretum. The sky was so wide and so blue and the dry prairie grass whispered and hushed itself in the spring breeze. We spoke of how we create meaning in our lives, living with uncertainty, and Buddhism. At the top of a hill, we both stopped talking at the same time and heard mourning doves calling to each other in the newly-green trees. I thought, presque vu.
Please. Please. Presque vu. Let me see just a little further. Just a little more clearly. I'm almost there.