I attended my 50th high school reunion last fall. Of course, it was a terrific time, especially since it was the first I’d ever been to. I was glad for the little name tags and reproduced yearbook photos that the very capable organizers thought to include for each of us. I would have been hard-pressed to identify some folks without them. Many had changed in appearance, and, equally truthfully, many I had never really known that well to begin with. Add 35 or 50 years and, well, I couldn’t assuredly say I really remembered some people at all, other than their having been in my graduating class.

Naturally, I connected most readily with the people I tended to hang out with back then. One conversation (among many) had to do with a particular memory involving a classmate and myself that occurred a year or two after graduation. This fellow recalled picking me up while I was hitchhiking. He was home at the time on leave from the Navy, which he’d joined to avoid being drafted into the Army. I, on the other hand, was blithely ignoring my military call-up status because, well, I suppose I was just young and full of optimism.

He recalled this encounter so vividly, he told me and the other folks around the table, because, apart from its being his first time home after boot camp, he had just been shorn of most of his hair, whereas I still had mine in abundance. It was something he felt particularly strong about.

I told him I could only vaguely recall the ride he was referring to, at best; this was not in the least unusual, since I had at that point in my life hitched, if not hundreds, then thousands of times on those local roads. Why I had no car at that time or where exactly I was going to or coming from, I couldn’t for the life of me tell you, or him, or anyone. In fact, I could not even swear under oath that I recalled this chance encounter and would instead have to say, if required to testify, that I had no recollection of it at all. It just didn’t stand out to me as much different from so many other instances, and so I could honestly say I did not remember its ever happening.

He, however, was certain that he had picked me up. I regret now that I didn’t ask him if he was one hundred percent certain, since that seems to be the gold standard for this sort of thing. I would bet, though, that his answer would be “yes.” He was quite certain of that event, and I have no reason on earth to doubt his memory of the experience.

After the reunion, I got to thinking about how often in high school and in the years thereafter, I would party or just be hanging around with some friends, not necessarily even drinking, and I might have a distinct memory from that occasion because something happened to trigger a part of my mind (and not anything especially dramatic or, God forbid, traumatic). I couldn’t with certainty tell you who all was there, other than maybe one or two particular friends, and I sure wouldn’t know the specific circumstances of when, where, how and why. I just know I experienced a shared reality.

And it’s entirely possible that the people I was with would have absolutely no specific memory of that event at all, other than a “yeah, maybe, I mean we sure partied and hung out a lot in those days, so yeah, it sure coulda happened, but I couldn’t swear to it, especially under oath and penalty of law.”

That wouldn’t make them liars, or make me delusional; it would just make us completely human in our completely understandable way of remembering, or not.

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