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Thanks to the consideration of a dear friend, I received an e-mail suggesting I log onto a Web site that would give me information regarding an issue with which I have been dealing for a while.
It was an article by David Brooks entitled, “The Great Forgetting.” My laughter was already bubbling up from a great humorous deep.
Brooks gave a wonderful tongue-in-cheek description:
“They say the 21st century is going to be the Asian Century, but, of course, it’s going to be the Bad Memory Century. Already, you go to dinner parties and the middle-aged high achievers talk more about how bad their memories are than about real estate ee
“In the era of an aging population, memory is the new sex ee Society is now driven between the memory haves and the memory have-nots. On the one side are these colossal Proustian memory bullies who get 1,800 pages of recollection out of a mere cookie-bite.
“They traipse around broadcasting their conspicuous displays of recall as if quoting Auden were the Hummer of conversational one-upmanship. On the other side are those of us suffering the normal effects of time, living in the hippocampically challenged community that is one step away from leaving the stove on all day.”
“Hippocampically challenged,” that is the greatest statement.
I was immediately taken to that dark place when my husband and I recently had happily driven off to a mini-vacation and board meeting in Florida. We had not yet reached the South Carolina border when I casually mused about the on/off status of the coffee maker.
Despite the fact we had carefully checked off our “vacation list” reminder of all that needed to be done prior to the final shutting of the locked door, we were now in the second guessing stage, and the first “angst” of the trip took hold.
The dam—no matter how that noun is spelled—broke. A whole series of “did you remember” rushed out and spilled over our plagued memory bank.
Did you remember to lock all the doors? Did you remember to tell the family where we’d be? Nothing bad is going to happen...but just in case!
On and on it went. Always, the queries began with that accusative, “did you?” emphasizing the frustrating neglect of one and the gracious memory of the other.
Finally, to retrieve some sense of peace, we decided both of us had either remembered or forgotten and nothing much could be done to change the situation. We had best move on, literally and figuratively, and trust that all will be well.
But the doubts don’t vanish. They re-emerge in the strangest ways. Always there comes a frantic race through wavering memory banks to find an elusive name or date or piece of important information.
There comes the day when I am enjoying WiFi coffee and want to check my e-mail, but can’t remember my password. I have it securely put away—at home, where I am not. Worse yet, I have been obedient to the sharp suggestions one password should not used to fit all accounts. The pressure mounts. Now, I have to search for more information from the depths that haven’t been probed for a while.
I try all the tricks to maintain and hone memory. Daily, I struggle with crossword puzzles that are supposed to train my brain to think in alternate ways, to think verb as well as noun, to find the clues and follow them.
Early in the week, I am as sharp as a tack. Those puzzles do not rule me or the pen I insist on using to prove that I can do them without erasures, but the days roll by. The clues are less obvious. The puzzles become mazes and I return to my originally hypocampically challenged self, muttering, “I know this answer, but I can’t remember it!”
The latest example of my frustration occurred at my 50th college reunion.
Septuagenarians all, many of us suffer with cataracts that made the ubiquitous badge we wore a useless addition to our outfits. Who could read the squiggles? Then comes the question, “How close up can one get before being a space invader?”
We had to rely on our memories to conjure up the names of classmates, some of whom we hadn’t seen for decades, but recall is both elusive and lacks total accuracy.
We were 70-somethings, but our memories only gave images and names of the 20-somethings who graduated with us in 1958!
Brooks continues to elaborate on the dilemma. “The dawning of the Bad Memory Century will have vast consequences for the social fabric and the international balance of power ee
“There will be new social movements and causes. The supermarket parking lots will be filled with cranky criminal gangs composed of middle-aged shoppers looking for their cars.
“As it becomes clear that a constant stream of blog posts and e-mails decimates the capacity for recall, people will be confronted with the modern Sophie’s choice—your Blackberry or your mind.”
Then I get a sudden memory flash. I become mindful of God’s infinite capacity to remember and re-member us.
I recall a divine question and accompanying promise, “Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you. See, upon the palms of my hands I have written your name.” [Isaiah 49: 15]
That’s all that matters. God remembers, and I am consoled.
Fran Salone-Pelletier has a master's degree in theology and is the author of, "AWAKENING TO GOD: The Sunday Readings in Our Lives" [a trilogy of scriptural meditations], leadchaplain at Brunswick Community Hospital, religious educator, retreat leader and lecturer.