The Ryan Report – Episode 211 "The Fifth Bullet"
Ryan's Bio | Read the episode recap
Memory's a strange thing. Now, I'm not talking about losing my keys, forgetting what's on my grocery list, or never remembering whether it was me or Espo who got the highest zombie kill count on Left 4 Dead. I'm talking about the important moments in life, the pivotal memories that you find yourself going over again and again. Maybe it's Senior Prom, maybe it's some pivotal sports game or maybe it's the first time you took your driving test (I had to take it three times, okay?).
Point is, however you remember these important moments, I can assure you that someone else remembers it differently. You may think it went one way, but they're convinced it went another. I once heard someone say that there are three sides to every story: yours, mine and the truth. That sounds just about right – it makes the whole thing sound like a screwy romantic triangle.
Sorry to get so dramatic, but I just recently got back from a high school reunion and it was… interesting. I know that nowadays it's easier than ever to stay in touch with people from your past – thanks to Facebook I wasn't surprised that our former head cheerleader has six kids (six!) or that the nerdy guy from comp-sci class just sold his software company for twenty-five million dollars (twenty-five million!).
But still, there's something about seeing everyone in person that's a little different than skimming their Facebook profile. For one, I actually had to speak complete sentences to them, which is a little different than posting up "Lookin' good!" or "Love the Santa Hat!" on their photo page. So we solved this awkwardness by visiting the open bar.
Once we got past the whole "what are you up to?," we began talking about our high school days since it's the only thing we all had in common. And that's when I started discovering how I remember things isn't exactly how they remember things.
I mean, I'm talking to a friend about a home run I hit in gym class that broke a car window… and he tells me that HE was the one who hit it. Then I find out my high school arch-rival thought we were really good friends. And then I discovered that Allison, the cute girl I had a massive crush on all the way through school but who completely ignored me, actually had a massive crush on me and thought I was ignoring her!
Okay, that last one never happened, but you can't blame a guy for dreaming, right?
It's surreal hearing that someone remembers an important memory you have in completely different way. And they're just as convinced about the truth of their memory as you are about yours – and you'll never find who's right.
Why do these things happen? Well, if you wanted to start thinking about it "fancy lad style" (in the immortal words of Detective Javier Esposito), you could call it the Rashomon effect, after that famous film by Akira Kurosawa. It's about a single event and how the three people involved perceive it differently. Personally I'm a bigger fan of the guy's Seven Samurai (less talking, more swords), but Rashomon does have some have some intriguing ideas. Plus, I get to antagonize Espo whenever I bring it up.
However, there's a simpler story that I prefer to use, one that springs from a fable that's been retold endlessly. A group of blind men are brought together to touch an elephant to learn what it feels is like. Each one touches a different part, but only one part, such as the tail or the tusk. They then describe what they felt and learn they are in complete disagreement about what makes up an elephant. The moral of the story is that no one can have a picture of the whole elephant, just like no one can know the whole truth about things.
So maybe that's what a high school reunion is: a bunch of blind people coming together to describe an elephant – aka high school. Well that and gossip about who lost weight, who got divorced three times, and who hooked up with a teacher.
And the most important lesson to come out of all of this? Even if somebody made twenty-five million bucks, everyone is still more intrigued by the guy who's now a Homicide detective for the NYPD and is friends with famous people like Richard Castle. I may not make the big bucks, but at least I get to impress my old high school friends at the reunion. It's not tropical island retirement money, but it's still pretty damn cool.