On Forgetting

A 20 minute freewriting exercise inspired by the phrase, “I don’t remember.”

It happens less when I’m well rested. When stress levels are lower and the focus is happy. That pesky nagging that, “I don’t remember.”

As someone who lives much of her life in her head, writing as I do, quietly pondering as I do, that failure to remember – a storyline, a scene, a cherished memory, a face – feels like just that, a failure.

Oh how it grates at me to dwell on what I cannot remember, when I know full well that having thought it, or lived it, or known it intimately, leaves it somewhere in my cluttered and aging brain.

I learned that to fight against forgetting is to drive it deeper into the shadowy recesses.

The only way that I’ve ever coaxed the forgotten back to the surface is by letting go.

It’s like swimming out in a lake, cold currents rushing over submerged limbs, as the darkness creeps up. If you panic, you drown. If you relax and embrace the sky – roll over and arch your back and trust that the bottomless gray liquid will buoy you up to the surface – you live.

It’s a real mental shift to trust instead of panic. Against all instinct. When we fear, we clench and we lose. Memories are like that. You feel them slipping under, being pushed farther away by conflicting currents within the busy mind. Of course, sometimes we can grip the thread of one, like a hand, and pull it back. But that’s rare, in my experience.

My best luck has come with intention and surrender. Settling my mind on the fact that whatever it was still exists, and if it is meant to be, it’ll float back to the place where it can be seen again, worked with, cherished, transferred to paper if I have my wits about me…

There is so much that I don’t remember at any given moment. It’s part of the state of being human. I can’t fathom holding every memory in the front of my head.

It’s a beautiful thing, then, too. The art of forgetting and remembering. Our minds hold whole worlds, and how lucky we are to live in the ebb and flow, and with it, learning from our experiences as we are ready. Revisiting when the timing is right, new thoughts forming from the old. Reconfigured. Blossoming. And the longer we live, the more opportunity there is to forget and to remember again.

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