Remembrance of Things Present

The future meets the past

Viktor Dobai/Flickr
Viktor Dobai/Flickr

In June 2013, I suffered a closed head injury in Aleppo, Syria.

I told fighters from the Free Syrian Army that something had broken inside my head. They looked at me as if to say, What did you expect?

Later, I had dinner with a friend. “Well, did you make it to Aleppo?” she asked.

I nodded.

“How was it?”

“Something broke inside my head.”

“I bet it did!”

“No, really.”

Back in Texas, I went to my local emergency room and told them I needed a CT scan. They put me in the psych. unit instead.

The symptoms grew worse, and my best friend urged me to go back to the emergency room. She was strident about it. “At least call your doctor,” she said.

When I described my symptoms to the doctor on call, he said, “Get to an emergency room immediately.”

So I went to a different one this time. They gave me a CT scan and told me I needed emergency brain surgery.

A few weeks after the surgery, I went back to the Middle East. I was under a book contract. When I returned to Texas, I met my neurologist. He happened to be from Aleppo. And then something very unusual started happening. I began experiencing what I called extended déjà vu. It was not just a flash. It could extend for minutes, hours, or even an entire day.

I drove friends crazy talking about it.

The most prolonged episodes occurred when I found myself in a small Colorado town I’d never visited before. The same movie was playing there as had been playing when I was there the first time. I’d just never been there before.

And when I’d strike up a conversation with a stranger on the street, I’d remember it was the exact same conversation I’d had with that same person in that same town in the past.

Then a more disturbing feature emerged. It happened when I was having dinner in a restaurant in that Colorado town. Of course I ordered the same meal I’d ordered before, etc. But then I remembered something that hadn’t happened yet.

I knew that a man and woman would come into the nearly empty restaurant. They would sit at a particular table in the corner of the room. He would be in profile, she with her back to me. I would find them both attractive, but decide that she was more attractive than he was. The waitress would greet them, give them menus, and talk to them about their church.

I thought about this sequence of events while I ate, and if it happened exactly as I had remembered it, something new and inexplicable would have occurred.

Nothing happened. So much for that, I thought. And then suddenly it did. The entire sequence, the same table and chairs, the same couple in the same clothes, the same conversation, exactly as I had remembered it.

I had seen into the future. I’m not over it yet.

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Dennis Covington, who died in April 2024, was the author of six books, including Salvation on Sand Mountain, a finalist for the National Book Award. His final book was Revelation: A Search for Faith in a Violent Religious World.


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