There’s a scene in The Matrix where Neo sees a black cat in a hallway, briefly stopping and shaking itself before trodding off — and then he sees the exact same cat do the exact same thing right afterwards. “Huh,” Neo goes. “Déjà vu.”
“What did you just say?” the rest of the team asks and, instantly, we know something’s wrong. “A déjà vu is usually a glitch in the Matrix. It happens when they change something.” In this case, the change is that the team is now trapped in the building it’s in, and the algorithmic overlord’s AI soldiers are on their way to exterminate them.
A déjà vu is a memory you feel you’ve lived before. It means “already seen.” It’s a moment of remembrance for which, “despite the strong sense of recollection, the time, place, and practical context of the ‘previous’ experience are uncertain or believed to be impossible.”
When I was nine, I was stuck on Zelda: Ocarina of Time forever. When I finally managed to proceed to the next dungeon, it was as if I had done the entire thing before. I knew exactly where to go, what to do, and which steps to complete in what order. It was eerie.
A few years later, I was sitting in my dad’s desk chair, sorting Yu-Gi-Oh! cards. As I held five of them in my hand, the sunlight fell in through a window on the left, and time seemed to slow down. It was an odd, trance-like moment — and the exact same thing happened again a few years later.
Now, I know there are various scientific, perfectly reasonable explanations for déjà vus, but if you’ve ever felt like you’ve been in “this exact spot at this exact time before,” if you’ve read pages in books where you knew what comes next despite never having read them before, if you just know that you’ve held the cards exactly this way, played the game exactly this way, or had the exact same conversation with that person, maybe you’ll entertain my theory for what déjà vus are: Reminders that we’re old souls in new bodies.
What if there’s only a limited number of souls, and the universe keeps redistributing them? When someone dies, their soul goes back to “the pond,” and when a new baby is born, maybe, instead of a fresh soul off the shelf, it’ll get one that’s been around — and that’s why that person’s life will be full of déjà vus. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, by the way. I think it allows life to accomplish certain missions by sending us, its dedicated agents of fate, on the same course multiple times across generations.
Sometimes, one human life is just too small. Too short. Too fragile. The civil rights movement couldn’t just bank on Martin Luther King, even though his speech might be one of the climaxes of that story. It also needed Rosa Parks, John Lewis, Harriet Tubman, Malcolm X, Harry Belafonte, Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, and many others, some of whom lived decades before the others were even born. Perhaps they just knew, even without reading about their predecessors in a book, that they were walking in the footprints of those who came before them — and where they were going was important, so important they had to keep walking.
Whenever you feel like you’ve “seen this before,” maybe it’s not a glitch in the matrix. Not a sign that “they changed something.” Maybe it’s a sign that nothing has changed at all. You’re here — again — and you’re on the same mission others were sent on before. What exactly that mission is only you can tell, but even if you have to stop sometimes and shake yourself before moving on, it’ll bring great honor, pride, and peace to your, and my, and our collective forebears. May your old soul never tire of new bodies, and may we each play our part in our one, shared human story.