To have a life without growing memory is to not be born. We abandon the years when we have grown. In turn we leave our past selves behind.
My Dear Friend,
I am afraid of forgetting my life.
If yesterday was lost, forgotten, and the world had moved, friends have aged, and many things done were left behind...have I really lived during those 24 hours?
What better prove that we're alive than reflecting on all these years on our deathbed. I guess we live only for that one moment, to die with little [[Regret]]. Fluttering, remembering, crying at the memories. To be denied of that is scratching the surface of hell.
I don't have any memories from before I was 5 years old. I don't who I was back then. We're not meant to, we were little kids. Everything around me was shocking enough to light up my life. It made sense that I don't remember any of it, I was young and underdeveloped (and still am now, according to my foolishness). But I'm sure I was having fun back then.
My family would tell me "you used to eat rocks when you were a little kid". There's even a picture of it in our albums, but I don't remember that at all. I'm inclined to believe my family because I love them. Such a weird thing to do, to trust the words of another human being concerning your own narrative, and their blood is your excuse.
What scared me was wondering: if I wasn't fully aware of what happened back then, was I truly alive? I've had to depend on people to tell me how I was as a baby. Would it be the same as when I'm an old man on my deathbed, depending on loved ones to tell me how did I arrive here?
The years passed by and we collected memories: pictures, videos and stories. We have them documented, the photo albums in the back corner of the living room. They surface up when we have guests at home. I, reluctantly, tell them the stories in each photo: the recitals in kindergarten and my family's amusement with me singing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, my overweight self skiing on the slopes of La Rosiere, my dressed as the Mock Turtle for an Alice in Wonderland play that I did.
These are the stories THEY remember of me. I remember some but not all. I forgot.
Put me in a room alone with my thoughts, decades later, and the voices will come back to haunt me: Did they actually happen? I need a family remember to remind me. I would need an ex-lover to tell me I used to be intimate with them.
They know me so well, more than myself in that year, or month, or day. Their retellings of the same situations I experienced myself could be stronger than the subject in question.
How horrible would it be if that exchange was abused? Through mere speech, I could drive the narrative of someone's memory in a different direction. If they had amnesia, I could have told them they were Superman. With training, my voice could be a Machiavellian weapon.
Remembering when I grew up
But if living is remembering, then I truly was born in 2003, when I moved to Europe. That was great; I remembered most of it. So many friends, cultures, backgrounds, and I learned so much. So, so much. The directness of the Dutch, the politeness of the British.
It was colourful, wondrous even, to learn of friends joking around and banter. Games to play, sights to see. Euphoria for 5 and a half years, with pepernoten and seagulls and the bells of Dutch bicycles.
Small nuances embodied, and my memory as the gateway for embedding all this into my life. We had a cultural transaction: I took a piece of the Netherlands with me, and I imparted my ego and absolute outlook on the world. How could I ever forget such a beautiful trade?
Such memories were pure, but as is the with the gift of time comes the compromise of decay. As I grew older, I started forgetting again, and alcohol became my remedy for fun.
I would black out from drinking too much, forgetting the night before. My friends would say I was crazy, but I couldn't remember.
What is fun if we forget about it? Anything could have happened–for all I know I could have killed someone during that blackout– and the thought of that scares me. And how would I feel about that same night 10 years later?
I prefer to remember the amazing moments I have with my friends. I don't want alcohol to think on my behalf. I wanted sovereignty over what stays in my mind.
Obliged to Recall
After playing came the world of work. Even in careers, memory loss is daunting.
Ever tried to be Head of Marketing when you've never 'head' anything marketing related before? So many ways to mess up.
The thoughts were endless:
What am I Head of? I’m just a kid. I know nothing of marketing. Why do they trust me that much?
I was riddled with anxiety over meeting expectations. Multiple hats to cover in a remote company. Baited to remember I was still pending as a full time employee (they had a 3-month probation period when entering). I threw myself into the fast-paced startup world and wasn't prepared for all the things I needed to remember.
Numbers and stats on how financially literate people are. Names of clients. Decisions made by the CEO. It was a hurricane of information and I'm expected to survive.
Strangely enough, I coped by buying online courses. It's my version of retail therapy. We buy things to make us feel good. Good for me was self-improvement.
I saw Jonathan Levi’s SuperLearner course and started taking it. My motivation was very simple: Be useful for my career. Help me remember things I can use. Really, it’s something deeper:
I don’t want to forget anything ever again.
I want to remember what I lived. How and why. Who was involved. Who did I love, hurt, and laugh with. Where and when it happened.
Memory loss is fucking horrifying
Yes, forgetting is an important ability. We have more things to forget than we remember because that is our filtering mechanism. It's an important step to keep our brains healthy. Both forgetting and remembering are equal.
But true fear stems not in forgetting, but losing what is precious, meaningful, and was.
If you're not taking care of yourself, whether physical/mental, you will damage this ability, discarding a part of your life. The vessel that records your time on Earth will decay.
Conversations not remembered are more or less unsaid. They don’t exist. They won’t. There would be conflict if only one person remembers. No one can verify it happened. And when both won't remember, it will become irrelevant.
Those drinking nights: they felt full of life at the time, but we became engrossed with such hollow entertainment thinking it will fill us. Logically speaking, we could have drank in silence and still had a great night. Maybe it's the camaraderie that made it enjoyable. What would make it better is if I could express my joy by what I said, and remembering it.
I'm also afraid of forgetting the important conversations in my life. The ones who give me so much wisdom. The ones where little tidbits of interesting advice and sage-worthy sentences that people have empowered me with before, I'm afraid of forgetting the lessons I learned from them.
I'm afraid of being left behind in my career. When will it arrive, the time that I'll forget someone's name or an important statistic that can give me the edge in a meeting with someone else? I've always prided myself on being a human encyclopedia. Indeed, pride can be dangerous. But I revel in the moments where I know I’m helping people. Visible impact is huge for me.
I’m afraid of being useless. What if there are times when I need my memory to be at its peak, yet I forget just as we reach opportune moments?
I'm afraid of forgetting the important people in my life. We cry on 'what could have beens'. Funerals, where we can't make memories with the dead anymore. Breakups, where our futures are denied. These are painful lessons, and we remind ourselves by remembering them. It's necessary maturing. If we forget them, we still stay as children. I don't want to be a child anymore.
All of my fears are integral to memory loss.
If we forget our mistakes, we are soon doomed to repeat them again.
The failures, the rash decisions, the breakups: these are all evidence of me learning something new and becoming a better version of myself. Without memory, these will be lost. What then?
I wonder if forgetting these things will revert me back to my 15-year old self, full of mistakes, of vigor and ignorance aimed at such meaningless things. Memory matters more than status, money and more.
My dear friend, there is a remedy to forgetting. I found the answer while coaching a few students on memory: Design your days to attract meaningful moments.
The pursuit of a meaningful life is a good start. The first step is knowing what you WANT to remember, and reverse-engineering the steps to keep remembering it. Our fears will reduce naturally, for every second spent learning, talking, living and exploring the inner depths of your curiosity for example, comes the chance to remember them.
The path to destroying the fear of forgetting starts with the courage and tenacity to remember everything. And if you can’t, record it at the least.
The next time we come across a moment, be honest with yourself: Is this really what you want to remember for the rest of your life?
The courage starts from there.
Our mortality grants us limited time. Never shall we forget everything that happens within that limitation.
With love, N.