Tuesday, June 12, 2012

I'm a Good Forgetter


“A retentive memory may be a good thing, but the ability to forget is the true token of greatness.
-Elbert Hubbard
My husband reminded me today that my son used to frequently say, “I'm a good forgetter”. Did you make your bed? Did you brush your teeth? “Nope. I'm a good forgetter.” At age 12, he is watching his sister grow up from the perspective of a 9-year age difference. Suddenly, his memory is improving. As he was practicing the ABC’s with his little sister, he mentioned remembering what I said to him the first time he read a street sign himself. He remembered Tinker Bell sprinkling fairy dust to make our Disney cruise ship fly home and than magically waking up in a Florida port the next morning. He remembers our family date nights. Getting tacos and than going to the drive-in movies back when our family consisted of just him, me and our dog. Random stuff. Happy stuff.
I love hearing his memories. It reinforces my desire to create many more. It also makes me wonder as life unfolds, which moments will stick with our youngest daughter.  Finally, it makes me question my own habit of remembering. 
Yesterday in the blog, I talked about people who make themselves unhappy and pessimistic by ruminating or over thinking an unpleasant memory. The opposite of that extreme memory habit is called avoidance. By definition, it means the act or practice of keeping away from or withdrawing from something undesirable. Most psychologists agree that is equally as damaging a habit because it leads to repressed memories and behaviors.
Nothing is ever perfect and life hasn’t always been ideal for my son.  There must be some memories that fall short for him. If so, he never brings up disappointments or times he was sad. Is that a child’s natural inclination? A personal choice? Maybe he really is a “good forgetter”. If so, as turn-of-the-century philosopher and writer Elbert Hubbard said, that may be a token of his greatness. Not dealing in extremes like rumination or avoidance, but rather consciously focusing on the positive and letting go of things that can’t be changed is the bottom line in enough self help books to fill a library.
My mother used to tell me if I verbalized a fear or some other unpleasant thought, I should immediately say “Cancel. Cancel. Cancel.” Not sure where she came up with that, maybe a Catharine Ponder book on affirmations. Mom always followed her “Cancel. Cancel. Cancel” by reminding me that “words are powerful”. Our whole family is bought into that notion now. 
Not sure if that trick works with redirecting memories. But if it is any comfort, scientists now believe that ALL our memory is essentially selective memory. In a fascinating article about post traumatic stress disorder and new drug therapy that can remove specific unsettling memories, they cited a study of survivors of the September 11th attacks.  The Forgetting Pill Erases Painful Memories Psychologists William Hirst and Elizabeth Phelps surveyed hundreds of witnesses immediately after the attacks. One year later, 37 percent changed their stories. Three years later, half of the stories changed from minor details to complete alterations of where they were when the towers fell. Yet, everyone was convinced their memory was completely true.
The article talks about how our brain has a complex filing system. Negative memories are actually stored in the center of your brain. Visual memories are stored in a file marked “visual cortex”. Memories of sounds are piled into the “auditory cortex” cabinet. The same memory that includes sound, and sight are split just like the emotional response of the same memory is stored in a different space.  The story concluded that “our memories are formed by the act of remembering them, controlling the conditions under which they are recalled can actually change their content.”


Essentially our memory is a story we tell ourselves a little different each time. We are both the authors and the readers of these stories. We choose what we believe.


While searching the keyword "childlike", I found Christian blogger Justin Taylor's post about  about the Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe author C.S. Lewis, C.S. Lewis' Delightful Childlike Forgetfulness Taylor observes that children can be delighted to the point of self abandonment. But by the time we reach adolescence, we are taught to be self conscious about being perceived as naive or gullible. We don't want to be caught believing in something that others don't. Taylor concludes:


Surely Lewis himself would have said that when we can no longer be "wide open to the glory" - risking whatever immaturity thereby- we have not just lost our childlikeness but something near the core of our humanity.


Those who will never be fooled can never be delighted, because without self forgetfulness there can be no delight, and this is a great and grievous loss.


Hope my son keeps on being a good forgetter, we will all take our lessons from him.


I leave you with this question today. Is there a story that gives you joy when you retell it? Is there a story that is no longer worth telling or may be best remembered a little differently? 


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