Saturday, June 14, 2014

Do you know how to forget?

When recalling old stories with people, with many of the narratives resulting from others' less-than preferable action and words, father used a line from an old Tamizh film song, authored by the prolific poet, Kannadasan, which wonders why the mind that can think can't figure out how to forget.

But, he was barking up the wrong tree.  The more unpleasant an experience, the more I seem to clearly remember that.  

Further, I am in the memory business, so to say--education is about understanding and remembering the important things.  Not "remembering" as in cramming for exams and forgetting everything the day after, but remembering out of a deep understanding.  Not to forget is, therefore, a professional hazard, and here was my father wondering why he can't seem to forget and expecting me to say anything other than chiming in resonance!    

Thus, neither the father nor the son easily forget--not the lessons in school and not the lessons at hard-knock-university.  And we both find that old film song line to be poignant.

Emily Dickinson poetically says it for all of us:

Knows how to forget!
By Emily Dickinson

Knows how to forget!
But could It teach it?
Easiest of Arts, they say
When one learn how

Dull Hearts have died
In the Acquisition
Sacrificed for Science
Is common, though, now —

I went to School
But was not wiser
Globe did not teach it
Nor Logarithm Show

“How to forget”!
Say — some — Philosopher!
Ah, to be erudite
Enough to know!

Is it in a Book?
So, I could buy it —
Is it like a Planet?
Telescopes would know —

If it be invention
It must have a Patent.
Rabbi of the Wise Book
Don’t you know?

But, by the same token, we also know really well that there is more sorrow than we cannot even begin to imagine if to forget it all becomes real.  A more recent poet wrote about this, which I have blogged before:

Forgetfulness - Billy Collins

The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot,
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never read,
never even heard of,
as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
to a little fishing village where there are no phones.
Long ago you kissed the names of the nine Muses goodbye
and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag,
and even now as you memorize the order of the planets,
something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps,
the address of an uncle, the capital of Paraguay.
Whatever it is you are struggling to remember,
it is not poised on the tip of your tongue,
not even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen.
It has floated away down a dark mythological river
whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall,
well on your own way to oblivion where you will join those
who have even forgotten how to swim and how to ride a bicycle.
No wonder you rise in the middle of the night
to look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war.
No wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted
out of a love poem that you used to know by heart.

So, hey, I would rather not forget! ;)


Anne in Salem said...

Perhaps our brains have only limited memory. As we remember myriad passwords, web addresses, phone numbers, account numbers, etc., we simply run out of capacity. So when we have to change and remember our online bank password for increased security, our college roommate's birthday is squeezed out.

School children today do not commit to memory many of the facts we struggled to memorize as children - dates, capitals, formulae, etc. "Minor" details, such as the date of the Magna Carta, can be searched so easily online (which so many children can access on their phones) that children see no purpose in memorization. Discussions are frustratingly limited until they come to their senses. Understanding is equally limited.

Ramesh said...

The brain is an unfathomable (at least currently) mystery. The absolute highs and lows of life are certainly etched in memory. But after that, memory seems to be selective. Some lows surely, but also some highs. And they seem to be random. Some others are entirely forgotten and when old classmates or friends bring them up, it is entirely unfamiliar. And some absolutely trivial things seem to be carved into memory.

I would hate for it to be any other way. If we had "computer memory" that would be as bad as forgetting everything a la Alzheimers. Maybe evolution found us the right balance, after all.

Sriram Khé said...

There is only one thing I want to note regarding both your responses:
I have nothing to disagree!

For once, no argumentative Indians--might not happen again, ever ;)

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