Two paths cross unknowingly in a fleeting, memorable moment. Later, the discovery of the shared memory sheds new light on a shared present and future.

Though we both now live and work in Northern Ireland, and have done so for many years, our roots are far afield. When we first met in Belfast, and began our working relationship, we were unaware that we had, in fact, experienced a chance encounter many years earlier.

One of us was born in Hong Kong to Scottish parents, the other born in Sweden to Swedish parents. Our fathers held careers that—uncommon for the time—saw us traveling the world extensively. We both coincidentally moved to Northern Ireland in the same year: 1994. In addition to this temporal coincidence, our lives have shared numerous other similarities.

Heavily influenced by our fathers, we share a passion for literary theory, in particular French structuralist and post-structuralist writing, and have both read extensively on the topic, having been introduced at an early age to the ideas of Barthes, Foucault, and Baudrillard. It was this shared interest that set in motion a remarkable discovery.

It turns out that—unbeknownst to either of us—our paths first crossed at Bombay International Airport where our families were stopping over (one heading east, from Scotland to Hong Kong; the other heading west, from Vietnam to Sweden). Though we didn’t know each other at the time—we would only meet properly for the first time nearly two decades later—we subsequently discovered that we must have passed within mere inches of each other one day in 1984.

Seeped in the clinging heat of the airport—the rattling fans unable to entirely close out the humidity pressing through from the outside—and immersed in the close proximity of people corralled tightly, stranded in that non-space neither here nor there, we both vividly recall seeing for a fleeting moment Louis Althusser. The appearance of this noted French Structural Marxist philosopher—in transit and passing through Bombay en route to a lecture at Cornell University—imprinted itself upon our memories.

Over time, this moment eventually became hazy, indeed, almost forgotten. Sitting down nearly thirty years later, sharing the adventures of our misspent youth, we by chance discovered—through nothing more than the catalyst of Althusser—that our paths must have crossed many years earlier; indeed, we might even have brushed past each other in that distant airport.

Realizing that we had been in such close proximity to each other so many years earlier reshaped the story of our lives. Before we unearthed this fact, our stories were very different. After we discovered it, our personal narratives, the stories we choose to tell, shaped not only the present and future, but also the past.

Though it was just a brief glance that day in Bombay, discovering that shared moment—a moment we have retrospectively woven into our narratives—shaped our futures. Althusser, a point in our separate journeys rediscovered and shared many years later, altered our trajectories and sent us down a shared pathway of influence, one that shaped our beliefs and opinions from that day forward.

What we learned in our conversation nearly thirty years later was that in the shared chaos of everyday life there lies an interpreted history. When historians look back on the movements of time and interrogate the past, they tease out connections, connections that they and they alone decide to make. Just as historians invent the past, we too create our own narratives from those moments we choose to include and connect.

Only in hindsight are the plausible connections possible to comprehend; with just a slight change in the frame of reference, we can see things differently. When cast through the prism of this shared experience, we saw the fact that although we may not be in control of our destinies, we may have some control over the stories of our past and that the act of creating this past inevitably shapes our futures.

The standardistas

Christopher Murphy and Nicklas Persson teach interactive design at the University of Ulster at Belfast, where they have been active in promoting a web standards-based curriculum. They’ve written for 24 Ways, New Adventures, and .net magazine, and have published a book, HTML and CSS Web Standards Solutions: A Web Standardistas’ Approach.

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