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  • Writer's pictureDoug Weiss


Well, it finally happened, I forgot something that I’ve known and recited routinely most of my life. I could call this sudden moment of forgetfulness a product of age, and maybe that is all it was. I am, after all, closing in on that time when we typically find ourselves forgetting little things. What I forgot was unimportant, easily found and in any event I did not quite forget it, but somehow it felt wrong when I said it out loud to myself and for a few seconds I was honestly unsure.

I haven’t quite gotten to the point where I find myself in a room and cannot recall what I came to do or get, though that may come. Nor are there other signs, yet, but it got me thinking about that day which surely will come, as it does to us all, when I will slip and some part of my past will be lost to me, perhaps forever. Memory is such a curious thing, so selective and sometimes ephemeral. Good memories—moments of great joy, reminders of happy times, those I can conjure up without thinking very hard about it. So too, sad and difficult times, but thankfully the pain of loss has dulled with time. Or maybe it is a form of self-protection that we choose to recall such memories in a way that spares us the sharpness we once felt.

I’ve read that we humans remember about 40% of what we experience in our lives and that is probably a good thing. Much of the time we spend each day isn’t all that memorable, but it is something to ponder what besides happiness and sadness is worthy of storing in our memory bank. Speaking of which, the idea of associating memory with a bank seems quite apt. Some things I choose to forget; unkindness, transgressions and other forms of hurtful behavior serve no good purpose to carry around. Those feelings live in the present. They might linger for a very short while but inevitably I let them go for my own good so that they do not shape my future. They are deposits I fail to make. As I get older, I am mindful of making deposits, special memories and sometimes just the feeling of an especially good day. The nice thing about memories saved is that you can withdraw them as often as you like but you can never spend them.

I am always impressed by those who appear to recall their childhood with great clarity. My own memories are pretty sketchy up to my mid-teens. There are a few snapshots, and curiously they aren’t all that memorable. What I mean is that there is nothing of note to some of those memories, nothing that suggests why they merit pride of place in my finite storehouse but there they reside nonetheless and that’s ok. I quite like the fact that I have those recollections; they add a flavor that I would not otherwise have any sense of if all that I recalled were the highs and lows.

Two members of my family lived past the age of 100 so I have some experience with the effects of age on memory. My great aunt, Pauline, an avid reader and curious thinker rarely talked about the past. It was not that she failed to remember, she had vivid recollections of her childhood and adult years. But she lived so much in the present, in the moment, that she was too busy to dwell on the past. She was 103 when she passed. My maternal grandmother, her sister, also lived to almost 101. Unlike her sister, May spent her final years dwelling largely in the past. She was able, fairly healthy and competent to live alone, but her days were spent mostly in another time. I think these two women offer an insight worth pondering. We can live in our memories or make them, it’s a choice every day.

Fortunately, we live in an age where we carry in our pocket a tool that can store thousands of images, facts, and information that we need not worry about losing. So when that day comes, if it does, when we really cannot recall something vital we can always turn to this bit of technology to help us cope. But as for me, I am trying to live like aunt Pauline, in the moment.

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