Memory Loss
Posted on July 14, 2015

I highly recommend it. It struck me forcibly as I read a paragraph in a young adult novel that my grandniece was sharing with me. One of the characters was retiring from a teaching position where he had given his best for many years, but the final months had not been happy ones. He confided to a friend:

“I used to believe that having a good memory meant being able to remember everything in perfect detail. Now I believe having a good memory means being able to selectively forget...”

Doesn’t that strike home? It hit me so forcibly that I had to write it down lest I lose it in my crowded bag of memories. We have to rethink what we mean by memory loss. For so many of us it is the concern about some form of dementia for our loved ones and/or for ourselves. But now I have this other memory loss to consider.

I have an acquaintance who seems to forget no nuance of anything I have done or said. She is sometimes correct, but more often she dredges up an obscure – to me – remark from a conversation more than a decade old and confronts me with it. I have lost the circumstances that evoked it, so all I can do is stammer and apologize, at a decade’s remove. Do note that I said acquaintance, not friend, since I dread our encounters.

Now I have a new way of looking at memory. We need to forget lest we end up with a memory bag of grudges and bitterness. The speaker in my novel spoke of “selectively” forgetting, and that is the vital clue. To forget everything is to be a vapid blank slate. To recall the small kindnesses and thoughtful gestures of a day is to grow richer by the hour.

Why do we remember? It can be so that we don’t repeat an error. It can be so that we might turn our attention to working to right a wrong. It can be to cherish a happy moment and make it live on. It can be to make room in our hearts for joys more powerful than pain.

I no longer dread memory loss. I welcome it in this new form.


Mary Ellen Roche on July 20, 2015

Thanks for this new take on an old lesson. I love the idea of your sharing the YA novel with your grandniece; that's surely a memory you'll both want to hold on to! May I ask what you were reading?

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