It is somewhat of a weird miracle how memories resurface.
How they are remembered, retold, rehashed.
How biking or walking or running or sitting in one place can have the kind of magic that lures and pulls you back to another time, another place, another person— a glimmer of Orion’s belt, the snap of a wine cork, a faint whiff of toasted hazelnut.
In French and Creole cultures, this kind of remembrance encapsulates the magic of déjà-vu— the sense that what you are experiencing au présent, you have already experienced au passé.
The sense that you are living in this shadowy yet glimmering place between past and present.
We use it sometimes in English: “Oh wow, that’s like, so déjà-vu.”
Flipping hair. Flicking through magazines.
But the deeper mysticism behind the term connotes more of a striking, swooping sensation:
Déjà-vu hits you.
Hits you hard.
Makes you inhale sharply.
Makes your head swivel.
Makes you keel over in tears.
In New Orleans, this transportation struck me in random moments– the way the light sometimes hit the bark of trees, the particular scent of muddied water, the fleeting taste of beurre noisette.
In Chicago, it’s been in the smiles on people’s faces, the slight tilt of shoulders, in hands waving overhead, tiny fingers dancing across trumpets, in y’alls and how you doin’s and yasssses.
In New Orleans I missed places— missed the winding staircases of Lyon, the alien canyons of Utah, the piney scents of Maine.
But in Chicago, I find myself missing people— miss the sounds of familiar laughter, the pokes and prods of years-long jokes, the shoulders to fling my arms around or to nestle my head on.
There have been so many moments over the past almost-two-months in which I find myself talking to someone and something– a kind of spark– goes off in my mind– “Oh, they are like this person.”
They are like my friend who jumps up and down with the excitement of a 5 year-old, like a mentor whose speech calms the flutterings of my brain, like the person whose presence makes my heart start beating too quickly.
I almost blurt out, “YOU REMIND ME OF…” but quickly close that gate. Reel myself in. Keep the words from coming out, afraid of saying too much, too soon.
Because truthfully, I’m still not entirely sure what to make of Chicago.
I find myself trying to make comparisons– this is like this or like this or like this.
Try to weave together similarities of seemingly disparate things and people and groups and places.
Try to make sense of a city that is not yet my own.
Try to make comparisons all the while knowing that in making these comparisons, I am also setting myself up for a state of constant longing.
A week ago, I jumped into a sea of 40,000 runners and ran 13 miles of the Chicago Marathon with a friend from New Orleans.
And was struck, all over again, by this sense of déjà-vu— the similarities between this place and the Eagles-green of the Broad Street Run, this place and the glitter of the 504k, this place and the ramblings of Lyon.
A few miles in, two friends from New Orleans magically popped out from the crowd:
And it was one of those weird moments when past and present and future all collided at once and I found myself jumping up and down, waving my arms all over the place, and laughing and yelling and crying.
I stopped at Mile 22 last Sunday, gave my New Orleans friend a huge hug and joined 30 people in cheering– shouting, high-fiving, hugging, encouraging– everyone.
Three hours went by, and we formed a cheer tunnel, hands and arms and voices intertwined as runners glided by.
In my head, there was a soft ping, a deep knowing: this, among thousands of people, hands waving overhead, cheering till voices hoarse– is where I belong:
Alongside people. Laughing wholeheartedly. Celebrating everything.
And no, it’s not Philly or France or New Orleans or any of the other places where I’ve inadvertently left pieces of myself behind.
But y’all, Mile 22 of a marathon reminds you that sometimes “place” is really just where the people are that make you remember why the world has the capacity to glimmer and sparkle and shine. Déjà-vu or otherwise.