I forgot my aunt’s name at a family function.
At that moment, I could have given you her street address. I could describe her living room in detail. I could even recall the model number of her rotor tiller; I needed that when I ordered a head gasket for her. But for the life of me, I couldn’t come up with her name.
If that were not awkward enough, she had yet to be introduced to my wife and the two of them were waiting for me to say something.
Fortunately my aunt is a gracious lady. She broke the ice. “Hi,” she said to my wife, “I am Peg, Greg’s aunt.”
My wife was equally as gracious, “I’m Julie,” she said, “Greg’s wife, “Don’t mind him, he gets like that.”
“He always has,” Peg said, “but he is good with rotor tillers, so we keep him around.”
I am not sure why she said I always was like that because when I was young I rarely forgot anything. People refused to play Trivial Pursuit with me because I ran the board. I had more minutia in my head than a hardware store clerk. I could remember precisely who said what at last week’s project meeting but now I am lucky if I remember to attend the meeting and occasionally I forget where I am going.
In short, as the years pile up, I get more and more befuddled.
I complained to my Doctor about this – but he just smiled and welcomed me to old age. He said it was not worth worrying about.
But it got me thinking. When I was young, I forget nothing, now I can’t remember anything. Could the two be related?
Until just a few years ago, I filled my head with every detail that floated past my senses.
Kids especially are like that, they maintain an encyclopedic knowledge of gossip, music and technology. They adapt to new things so quickly because they are in the business of remembering everything.
People of my age, however, are in the business of forgetting. The music we memorized is long out of style. The technology we filled our head with is obsolete.
Even our basic skills are beyond their expiration date. Who needs to know how to spell when you have a spell-checker? Why memorize telephone numbers when you can poke at a picture on a cell phone menu?
All of this useless knowledge like DOS commands, spelling and phone numbers takes up space and every night as we sleep, our brain scrubs away the trivial.
The process is like waves on a beach that wash away the footprints of memories. Our mind tries to retain what is important, like the name of an aunt, as it wipes away the unimportant, like the plate number of our long lost VW Beetle, but sometimes it gets mixed up and the cost is befuddlement…. hence those senior moments when we can’t recall what we really need to.
But there is something else at work too, at least for me.
As time goes on, I worry less about the missed meetings or where I put stuff. Those things have become no more important than sand-castles standing against the tide.
Instead, I focus more on knowledge that matters, like what the deer who visit my backyard eat during the winter and how many of them will make it to spring, or why people waste so much time screaming their views at each other rather than learning from each other.
Acquiring knowledge like that is worth the price of a few awkward moments at a family gathering.