We all like to think that our memories are accurate. In other words, none of us likes to think that we don’t always remember things exactly the way they happened! How many times have you (or I) had a conversation that went something like this:
“That’s not what happened at all.”
“Of course it is! That’s exactly how it was!”
“Oh, you don’t remember! It was nothing like that!”
“You’re the one who doesn’t remember! I remember it like it was yesterday!”
It goes without saying that the other person was wrong. But imagine that both of you are reading this at the same time…
When I was in high school back in Norway, I had a teacher named Lasse who told us a story. If you will read it, I will tell it to you. Lasse once took a vacation and drove across the mountains from Oslo to Bergen. There are not many roads through the mountains; you can take the E16 all the way up Slidrefjorden and over to Lærdal, or leave the highway at Fagernes and go by Hallingskarvet and down through Vossevangen: a much shorter but smaller road, narrow but well-maintained. If you drive carefully, it is almost as safe as it is beautiful. That was Lasse’s choice, and it would have been mine too. He drove all through the morning, and by early afternoon he was climbing up to a high pass. Up ahead he saw an old VW Beetle laboring to crest the ridge; there was only about a half kilometer or so to the top. The Beetle was in the middle of the road, so Lasse could not pass. Just as he was thinking about pulling over and waiting for the little car to get over the ridge, another car came from the opposite direction – came popping up over the top of the pass like a jack-in-the-box – and smashed head-on into the Beetle. The speed limits on those mountain roads are 45 km/h (or about 28 mph for the few of us in the world who still doggedly refuse to accept the logic of the Metric System), so the cars were going fast enough to smash themselves up pretty well, but nobody was killed. Lasse stood on the brake pedal and was able to avoid joining the wreck. This was long before cellular phones; Lasse made sure the other drivers were all right, then continued on his way, stopping 40 kilometers down the road at Flåm to notify the police and dispatch a tow truck. Having performed his civic duty, he enjoyed four more days of his vacation before being summoned as a witness to the courthouse in Flåm. Each of the drivers had accused the other of being at fault, and Lasse’s testimony was needed to resolve the matter.
“I remember perfectly,” he told the judge after driving up the mountain again for three hours. “I was behind the Beetle and thought to myself that it was a bad idea to be driving right in the middle of the road.”
“How did you know it was right in the middle of the road?”
Lasse smiled confidently. “I knew it was in the middle of the road because I could see the yellow stripe exactly between the rear tires,” he said.
“That is strange,” said the judge, “seeing as how that section of road has no striping.”
“Of course it does,” Lasse replied, a bit annoyed. “I remember it very clearly.”
“I assure you it does not,” said the judge. And he ordered a policeman to drive over the pass with Lasse in a police car to inspect the road.
There was no striping on the road.
And that is the end of the story.