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One day at a photographer’s studio in Paris I saw a picture of a girl who looked exactly like me. It was decades ago but I remember it vividly. She had the same face, same haircut, even the same clothes.

It was freaky. Because I knew it wasn’t me. It couldn’t be. I’d never had my photograph taken there.

Still I couldn’t stop looking at the picture. Mesmerized.

I never asked who the girl was. But sometimes I still think about it. Is there a woman out there who looks just like me, a doppelganger, living in Paris? And is she having a whale of a good time?

Do we all have doppelgangers out there and are they all having a lot more fun?

Sounds crazy I know, but I don’t suppose any more nuts than believing in an afterlife. After all scientists believe in Newton’s third law of motion - for every action there is a reaction. Which means for all matter, there must be anti-matter. The problem is no scientist can locate most of the anti-matter in the galaxy. It isn’t in black holes. That’s just massed energy.

So, is there a looking glass world? Or is it that we just want to believe in other choices?

Maybe that’s why avatars are so popular – those creatures who resemble us, but are like characters in a cartoon. After the steamroller flattens them, they pop back up, all puffed out and raring to go.

In avatar world there are no wounded egos, no broken hearts. Avatars never bleed or bruise or get sick. Avatars never die.

So believing in an alternate life sounds like a good deal. Even better than an afterlife - though you don’t get those great wings.

Sure we know that an alternate life is probably not real. But it seems to open a whole world of possibilities. The “what if?” Everything becomes possible. Life becomes like one of those Etch-A-Sketches we used to play with as kids. When things go wrong, we can just shake it. Start again. Make another choice. Be another person. If we don’t like what we chose behind Door 1, we can try Door 2.

Growing up I always thought the party was going on somewhere else. I used to sit, watching the red taillights of cars heading into downtown on a Saturday evening and imagine that they all contained couples going out on fabulous dates. One day when I was older, I was in one of those cars. I’d been fixed-up with a guy who looked like he had three eyes and no chin. And I remembered the little girl who dreamed, and I laughed at myself.

But still the dream lingered. Where was that party?

It reminds me of the scene in Woody Allen’s Stardust Memories. He’s sitting on a train in a drab kind of East German railway station amongst a crowd of dreary and sinister fellow passengers. He looks out the window into the train next to him. All the passengers there are beautiful, laughing, drinking champagne and having a fabulous time. He pounds on the train window desperate to get out and change trains. But he can’t, he’s trapped, and he watches helplessly as the other train leaves the station.

Of course all of this is unfair and just plain greedy. Most of us have a great life, still filled with possibilities and laughter and yes, champagne. And yet some of us hanker for more.

There’s an old Jewish story about people in a village in a Schtel somewhere in the Pale who couldn’t stop moaning about what a rotten hand life had dealt them. So the Rabbi told them to list their troubles and pin them to a long laundry line. After that he told them they could pick anyone else’s troubles.

You get the idea. In the end they took home their own. Nice story. Not so sure that it’s right.

My guess is that there’s an upside to this yearning. If you don’t dream there’s a better life, then nothing gets done. We’d still be squatting in our caves shivering in our bearskins and gnawing on raw blubber, while the guy in the next-door cave who had invented fire sometime back was all toasty warm and eating a rib-eye steak medium rare.

So I still toy with the idea that there is a doppelganger living somewhere in Paris leading a much more glamorous life than mine. And if that’s true, I’m thinking as I stand in my kitchen cooking and drinking a Lite beer from the can, I’ll bet she’s getting a better diner then I’m making.

TURNING POINTS from Crowd-Writing

a book by Shelley Katz

Out Now

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