The Power of Remembering and Forgetting

“To forgive is wisdom, to forget is genius. And easier. Because it’s true. It’s a new world every heart beat.”
Joyce Cary, The Horse’s Mouth

Last weekend we visited my mother in Florida.  She was recently hospitalized with a broken arm and was sent to a progressive care center for therapy.  As we sat chatting in the community garden under some palm trees, she glanced at me and my husband from time to time, but her mind wandered to different places, different times.  She told us she had plans to meet some women from work later that afternoon and they were going shopping in Port Washington–the town thousands of miles north, where she grew up.  She called my husband by the wrong name.  She told the nurses’ aide that I was her sister.

For me, the mind is like this street in Capri.  Steep and winding.  Full of patches of sun and deep shadows.  For my mother, forgetting was a blessing.

In the months preceding her fall, she was distressed by her inability to remember, but now she was beyond that.  Simply put, she was happy.   Mentally, she was far away from the reality of the rehab hospital, her broken arm, her failing health, her faltering mind, and her long and difficult relationship with my father.

This is a lesson for me, and, I suspect, for all of us as as we face new challenges with some degree of trepidation and uncertainty.  In these moments, it’s tempting to hesitate, to get stuck in the past, in familiar territory.  As we waffle between idea and taking action, we sit on a mental fence, counting our past failures, reminding ourselves of our weaknesses.  Or, perhaps we replay the challenges not taken, the opportunities that slipped through our fingers, or the relationships that dissolved in anger or in silence instead of thinking of our abundant strengths, our positive qualities, and our resiliency.

In moments like this, we forget who we truly are;  we forget our true magnificence and power as a very human being.  Instead, we focus on the small picture–our failures, fears, and doubts.  But as we move forward into new territories, new challenges, new relationships, we have to do a bit of remembering and forgetting.  It’s not easy to do–to strike that balance and sometimes it takes all of our courage.   The author of the quote at the top of this post has a contrary opinion.  Do you agree with her that it’s easy to forget?  Or, do you agree with me, that sometimes it is very difficult?


4 replies »

  1. The pain of watching someone frustrated by his collapsing memory is so great, I find myself yearning for him to reach the stage where the grasp on the present no longer flashes in and out unpredictably. I long for him to rest comfortably in the past instead of suffering the anguish at his lack of power to recall the names of his grown sons or even the simplest action from half an hour ago. The inability to forget is difficult, but the inability to remember appears of far worse curse.


  2. That is so true, Gayle. Watching someone lose the connection to their memories and the world around them is so painful. It’s heart wrenching for us to watch. For us, it’s a gradual and painful loss as they forget more and more about us and our shared history and their mind recedes to another place and time. In my case, it’s easier now that I see my mother has moved beyond her present awareness and she is happy. Still, for us, there is that loss of who they once were and the history we shared.


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