I once experienced a reunion that left me absolutely speechless. I was working in a video store when I got to know an interesting young couple. Regularly, they’d visit the store and ask, “So, Jeff, what should we watch tonight?” I’d recommend something, and off they’d go without bothering to do any more browsing.

Years later, I saw the fellow at a bus stop. He looked world-weary and a little lost. I asked him how he and his girlfriend were doing. His bus pulled up. He turned and looked at me and said, “She died in a fire at her apartment.” Then he stood up, got on the bus, and I’ve never seen him since.

I had nightmares about that fire for years, thinking about that beautiful girl running back into her fiery apartment to try and save someone or something and never emerging from the inferno.

Several years later, I was on the phone with a friend and mentioned how I was still haunted by that tragedy. He said, “What are you talking about? I had dinner with her in San Francisco just a few weeks ago.”

It was one of the happiest moments of my life. If you know me, you know I’m rarely speechless. It took me a few moments to find my voice. A few weeks later, she happened to walk through a coffee shop where I was chatting with a friend, and it’s a good thing she recognized me, because I ran up and embraced her and cried a little.

Turned out her ex-boyfriend had become rather messed up and mean. And when I started to explain, I could tell that this was only the latest in a series of personal crimes he’d committed against her.

That was the best unexpected reunion of my life.

I’m writing a reunion scene this week, and it’s got me thinking back through my favorite reunion scenes in films and literature. One stands out.

In Mike Leigh’s Secrets and Lies, there’s a long, one-take scene in a diner where a mother and daughter see each other for the first time in decades. For the mother, it is a huge and disorienting surprise. The scene plays out in ways that are funny, complicated, and painful. It’s a testament to two extraordinary actors who gave a deeply intuitive and convincing scene.

Can you think of any great reunion scenes? Planned or unplanned. Happy or horrifying. Heartbreaking or awkward. Please share!

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