Fifty-three years ago I traveled with my new husband to New Orleans for our honeymoon. We stayed in the Monteleone Hotel in the French Quarter and spent the next many days touring the historic city. Eventually we found our way to the Cabildo, a museum located on Jackson Square near St. Louis Cathedral. As we were strolling through the displays I had the oddest feeling of deja vu. I kept telling my husband that I remembered being there before, even though I knew for certain that I had never once in my life journeyed to New Orleans. Still, I had an almost creepy sense of recall inside that building that made our visit there a source of anxiety.
Once we were back in the fall sunshine and walking along the shops on Royal Street, I forget about the sense of deja vu that had overtaken me inside the Cabildo. We continued our trip joyfully and returned home to a whole new life together that would prove to be grand. I set aside the anxious feeling that I had experienced in the Cabildo and launched my adult life.
Years later my mother gave me a box of photographs and albums from the years when my father was still alive. The two of them had set out on a goal of seeing all of the United States and then eventually traveling the world. My mother had religiously recorded their wanderings with her Kodak Brownie camera. Before long I had been born and they were taking me along on their travels. There were photos of my mother holding me in front of the Statue of Liberty. Other pictures featured my father proudly hoisting me on his shoulder near the White House. It seems that I had been to more locales than I realized.
As I continued gazing at the black and white images of my very young parents and me, I came upon an picture that surprised me. I was sitting in a stroller staring at the antique submarine that is housed in the Cabildo in New Orleans. I could not have been more than eighteen months old at that time, but I was gazing with great interest at the iron object in front of me. Somehow it must have fascinated me so much that I never quite forgot that I had seen it, even though I may not have understood what it was or where it was. I would not view it again until my honeymoon.
Deja vu is that strange feeling that one has done something before even though it seems unlikely to be true. I suppose we’ve all experienced one or more such episodes in our lifetimes. Some very famous people like General Patton actually believed that he had lived on this earth in a prior time as a great warrior. For him, the sense of deja vu was simply evidence of another life that he had lived. Others believe that we get these sensations from images stored in our brains that may have come from movies, photos, or even dreams. They are not always real, but our minds are unable to unravel why they seem so familiar.
There have been other times when I’ve had a vague sense that I have been somewhere before without being able to recall when that might have been. None of them have been as intense as that visit to the Cabildo on my honeymoon. Little wonder that it made me feel so uncomfortable. Something sparked in my brain and since I was unable to explain it, I felt strange and even anxious.
I have always contended that we only use a small fraction of the power of our brains. I’ve often wondered if we will ever be able to unlock the full extent of the abilities that lie within our minds. We witness unique individuals who appear to have superseded the limits of thinking and creating. They are the gifted among us, those we call geniuses. Often even the families of such people have a difficult time explaining where the loved one’s abilities began. It is as though they have been born with the power of using aspects of their brains that the rest of us don’t even know exist. Maybe deja vu is simply a link to memories that are real, but most of us do not possess the awareness to understand where and how this information is stored.
I have always been an observant person, a quality that can be both a blessing and a curse. I see small changes of expression in a person’s face that tell me when something is amiss in their lives. I notice the tiniest of details and somehow remember them as well. If the information that I am storing away seems important I know how to find it again when I need it. If it is insignificant it is left to languish in my mind forever or until something sparks my sense of recall. I suspect that those are my deja vu moments.
I find our brains to be fascinating. We have so much more to learn about them. I literally dream of the day when we will be able to repair them in much the same way as we mend a broken bone or fix a heart. I imagine a process that will reverse learning disabilities, cure addictions, wipe out mental illnesses. We just have to follow that thread of evidence found in sensations like deja vu and then locate the sectors of the brain that are responsible for the way we think and feel and remember. Unlocking the universe of our minds is a frontier that we need to further explore.