I was standing in line for the deli at my local grocery store when I thought I saw a familiar face and wondered if she was someone I knew. My mind immediately went to its tattered mental Rolodex of names and faces…and I drew a big, fat blank. But I swore I knew her in some way.
Just then she swiveled her head my way, smiled and said, “Hi!” Validation! I DO know her…but…how? “Hey! How are you?” I responded, hoping she might say something that would give me a little more context to work with. No luck.
I HATE that feeling.
I hate knowing that I should know something that I don’t.
I hate forgetting.
I am happy to report that hours later it dawned on me how I knew this young woman. My frayed Rolodex found the right page.
A minor mental victory.
I feel like my memory is challenging me more and more of late, and it’s very frustrating and disheartening. Sometimes even scary. As someone who values experiences as the biggest treasures to accumulate in life, this threatens my booty, so to speak.
I don’t want the memory pirates storming my ship and stealing my goods.
Though memory loss is a worry of mine, I hang onto a lesson I learned long ago that really made sense to me—courtesy of Marilyn Vos Savant’s Q&A column in Parade Magazine, of all places.
While I didn’t save the column, I remember it well. The questioner wanted to know what value there was to seeing a play—or reading a book or anything along those lines—if you eventually forget the content of what you saw or read. Why bother if the memory fades? Does it still have worth? Does it matter?
Vos Savant’s answer drew a parallel to having a friend in kindergarten. She said that while most adults no longer remember the specifics of that friendship—maybe not even the name of the friend—isn’t it still important? Wasn’t it of value at the time and still of value now because it helped shape us into who we grew to be?
Though we may forget, it still matters.
I used this parallel throughout my teaching years when students would ask similar questions as to the value of reading. Once you’ve been touched by something, you never see the world in exactly the same way, I would tell them.
When we pay attention and let something soak in a little, it helps to shape and shade our perspective—maybe just a teensy bit—even if we can no longer bring it to the “front” of our brains, as I like to call it.
That’s what I comfort myself with when I look at a book on my shelf and barely remember the story or know I’ve seen a movie but can only recall that Morgan Freeman was in it…My memory may be cloudy, but each experience or creative work that I “let in” leaves a mark on me, even if only slight—it still touched me.
That question to Vos Savant was posed before today’s fractured world of multi-tab pages and content coming at us from all directions, and we don’t do our memory any favors by consuming experiences in that way, in my opinion. There is little time for anything to sink into our brains with scattershot. For me, nothing beats some quiet time with a book or a darkened theater about to light up with the hoisting of the curtain. Push away the distractions and engage.
Still…even with raising the odds like that, most likely the plotline will grow dim and eventually I will just remember that I really liked (or didn’t like) the experience.
And I’m pretty sure it’s only going to get worse.
And that’ll have to be okay because there’s no way I want to live in a world where the only thing worth doing is that which I know I will never forget.
Because I won’t be doing much.
Just ask the girl in line at the deli counter.