I just saw a World Wildlife Foundation ad about saving the elephants, and I am positive that the voice is that of the actor who used to be on the tv series NCIS and now has his own series. M and I used to compete at identifying well known people behind voiceovers. M was the champ. He’d say, “Hey, that’s George Clooney,” doing a Budweiser ad or “That’s the guy from Mad Men” selling cars. I’m not as attentive as I used to be, but the minute I heard the voice, I knew it was the guy who plays Bull.
Which reminds me, I’m sure I spotted the current star of Bridgerton, Season 2, in a Jamaica vacation commercial. It was just a flicker, but it was her. I imagine that as a working actor she thought it was a fabulous gig, before she got Bridgerton, but now she is probably telling her mom not to mention it to the neighbors.
Recognizing actors in commercials is fun and a sort of gotcha to the idea that we have exposed them as they were slumming for cash, hiding behind their elephants or autos.
Of course, people don’t have to be famous or even alive to show up unexpectedly in my world.
I saw my sister-in-law yesterday, although she’s been dead for ten years. She was on a commercial for the Hospital for Special Surgery, stage right in an exercise class, high stepping to the side and out of camera view before I could get a second look.
No, I don’t believe in reincarnation in the Shirley MacLaine sense. But I do believe that the occasional return of a set of facial features, a familiar body movement, a flash of an eyebrow or hairdo can bring the dead alive for a moment. My sister-in-law appeared as I remembered her middle-aged self, plumper than she was as a tiny old person, doing something she would never have done while she was alive: exercising. It felt good to see her doing it. Finally. Despite being dead.
When my life was more out there, in the world, I admit, my sightings were more often in person and definitely more personal. I saw my father, or at least the back of his bald head, the tilt of his shoulders one side higher than the other due to an old boxing injury, walking away from me on a Queens street more than once. I used to see my mother all the time when I was volunteering in nursing homes, her small, slightly hunched, still-peppy self, walking down a long hallway holding the pocketbook she carried long after it was empty of cash and keys.
And unlike the recognizing of voiceovers or actors in ads, which is an exercise in awareness, the unexpected appearance of people we know and love moving from one context to another is the way our sense memory enables us to touch the untouchable. Seeing the dead we knew and loved is more than just surprising. It is also profound and enriching, because it is a confirmation that our dear ones will live on as long as we want them to.