I’ve spent a fair amount of time with forgetful people. Between aging relatives, and relative aging, I am learning about if first-hand. Add to that the time I spend singing in nursing homes, Alzheimer’s units and assisted living facilities. It all clusters in a pile of charming and not-too-terribly-charming stories that are told and retold… and retold again.
I have fond memories of visiting my aging aunts. My Aunt Ruth, in her mid-nineties, decided to sing her conversations. You’d ask a question, and she would respond with melody attached to her words. She had a little ditty that my sisters and I still use one a regular basis. She’d sing
“I used to could, I used to could re-mem-ber. But now I can’t, I can’t, I can’t, I can’t.” The tune was similar to the melody of Come Back to Sorrento.
My Aunt Mae is a great storyteller, so the lilt in her voice, and her animated delivery make more pleasant the repetition of the story about how she gave her car to her granddaughter Krishna, because it wasn’t wise for her to drive anymore. I started thinking about it as a song, her story about not driving anymore. We all listen to pleasant songs over and over.
All of our aunts, and our beloved mother, remembered word for word each stanza of great poetry. Poems memorized, and ones written by the women themselves. Poems, and songs must deal themselves to our brains, because I have found this to be standard fare among residents at nursing homes. They can recite poetry and they sing along with me one the old standards.
Some people I love have deep seeded fears of losing their minds to forgetfulness. I wish I could reassure them that this is nothing to fear, but our fears are our fears, and it takes a boatload of logic to try to talk us out of them. Truth is, we don’t really get to control much of that.
There are real benefits to forgetfulness. The poor sisters who straddle me on our family tree have painful, ugly memories of our dad and the way he treated our mom, and the way he treated us. I was blessed to have forgotten much of it. To my sisters’ credit they don’t dredge it all up to live over and over again. Forgetfulness is bliss.
I have a flawed memory mechanism in my brain. It can recall vivid details about some things; random and meaningless details, and then I outright forget major things -- like the fact that one of my closest friends had a heart attack our senior year of high school, or that so-and-so had died … and I actually sang at their funeral. I forget stuff like that. It’s really embarrassing.
One of the interesting things about that flawed memory; i.e. forgetfulness, is that the things I forget or remember are not determined by their weight of importance or the measure of my love. I can love someone very sincerely and deeply, and forget their birthday, or that they have diabetes, or whatever.
I think part of my memory issues stem from my ability to dream in vivid detail, and to recall all those details after I awaken. I carry dreams around with me all day sometimes, and continue them when I go to sleep the next night. For instance, this morning I awoke with a very clear memory of having been to the library with some children I don’t know, where we worked on a craft project together. I remember I wore a green shirt and my brown Dansko sandals. There was a fellow there in the library who was rather quiet, with a pleasant demeanor, and he was reading a book over in a buttery leather chair by the bookshelves. He kept looking over at us. At some point when we were done crafting I grabbed my gig bag and walked out, looking at a large poster in the lobby that advertised a concert where I was headlining, singing the songs of Leonard Cohen. The man in the library, who by the way looked rather like David Bowie, stood beside me and we struck up a friendly conversation. Turns out he was Leonard Cohen himself. I asked if he’d like to join me on stage…you know, Leonard Cohen singing Leonard Cohen, with Cori Connors? Anyway, that dream has been following me all day today. So I wonder if the fine line between dreams and reality is extra thin for me, and I can’t recall things because I don’t know if I dreamed them or if they’re real, and they all sort of go to the same place in my memory bank. Ah, me.
I don’t believe there is a soul alive, who had been blursed with a healthy body and brain, who does not carry evenly weighted bundles of good and bad in their lives. It seems to me it would be just as good to forget as it is to remember.
I hope…I mean really HOPE, my kids will forget some of their history with me. I hope I forget some of my own weaknesses that weigh me down in the category of self-worth. There is so much about forgetting that is wonderful, I don’t know why we fear it.
During the season of Lent I make the personal commitment to write every day. I’ve done this for the past eight years, as a token of devotion and thanks to the Lord for giving me a brain that works (usually). I publish these writings here on my blog, unedited and splattered like wet paint, as a way to share them and to keep them for myself and for my posterity. This year I have decided to ruminate on thoughts, ideas, habits and miscellaneous personal practices I would like to put in a figurative HOPE CHEST to take with me into the rest of my life and the life beyond. Besides that, there are bits of advice I would like to tuck into the HOPE CHESTS of my kids and grandkids.