I just thought of a time before you were born when I should have been kind, but I can’t remember whether I was.

"stefan's hands" by nate steiner is marked with CC0 1.0.

Sometimes when I’m driving along lost in thought, I flinch.

If my son or my daughter asks me what’s wrong, I’m rarely able to articulate an accurate response like, “I just thought of a time before you were born when I should have been kind, and I can’t remember whether I was.”

So I usually say, “Oh, nothing.”

I recently flinched at a memory from a prestigious conference featuring a side panel on a niche topic I had published on as a grad student.

A presenter who my mind has encoded as “young and eager” casually referenced a misconception that I myself used to hold.

During the Q and A, an audience member said, “Have you seen the paper that somebody published on that very theory? It proves you’re wrong for these reasons…”

The speaker pushed back politely, and the two ceremonially countered and spitballed and whataboutted, as academics are prone to do, until a third person interjected with, “Maybe we should ask the author of that paper, Dennis Jerz, who’s sitting right there!”

I have a memory of everyone turning to look at me and the speaker throwing his hands up as if in defeat.
We had a good laugh.

I have no memory of what I said, though I do have the vague notion my hand was raised because I wanted to pose a completely *unrelated* question to one of the *other* presenters.

Certainly there was zero fight in me, because I was expecting nothing but a nostalgic, anonymous visit to a neighborhood where I used to hang out.

Today I expect that with a bit of effort I could find that conference program, track down that “young and eager” presenter, and find out how he remembers that incident.

Would he agree with my phrasing, “as if in defeat,” or was his emotion unfeigned?  How did the “good laugh” that I remember feel to him?

Has he totally forgotten about this? Or sometimes when he’s driving, does he see me in the audience, my hand raised?

And does he flinch?

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