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The Freedom of Forgetting

Forgetting is good

Two elephants at sunrise
Only remember things that make you smile

I need to forget more.

I’ve been likened to an elephant — I never forget anything.

Well, I forget how many feet are in a mile and the year of the French Revolution, but I can remember what people said fifty years ago. And that’s the trouble.

The ability to remember is a good quality for a writer. To evoke emotion in a reader requires details: the colour of the sky and what the clouds were doing the day I met my true love; the dark, gleaming eyes of the Greek child licking fast-melting strawberry gelato on a dusty, hot day in Athens while my stomach growled with hunger; the sheer drop to a rocky riverbed outside our bedroom window on a tiny island in the Philippines. I can close my eyes and bring it all back.

But the acute ability to remember what people said years ago isn’t good. It keeps me stuck in mental loops that don’t allow me to move on.

My mother, when I was nine: ‘You’re just lazy.’

A male college friend: ‘You’re a prude.’

Sometimes these comments play over and over in my head — words that aren’t true, and those who said them have long forgotten they were ever spoken. I wasn’t lazy (I just hated cleaning the bathroom every morning before school — what kid wouldn’t?). I wasn’t a prude (I was reserved and careful — useful qualities for a college student).

Remembering what someone said years ago isn’t good for relationships, either. It doesn’t give others the grace and space to grow. What my husband blurted out in his thirties doesn’t represent what he is now, in his sixties. Why recall those words and make them stick? I’ve changed and so has he.

I’ve said many things I regret having passed my lips, and hope there aren’t too many memory-retentive elephants out there remembering my thoughtless comments, reliving the hurt of my carelessly tossed words.

Grace (courteous goodwill) and space (room to move) are two things we all need. Especially in relationships.

Kahlil Gibran wrote:

Forgetfulness is a form of freedom.

So, if you want to be free, forget lots of things that aren’t worth remembering. Let them fade into the pale blue summer sky dotted with small puffy clouds packed with sweet promises (this is how it was the day I met my true love).

It’s good to remember children’s birthdays, PINs, and where you live. But forget what people said years ago — unless recalling it makes you smile.

With love, Marlane

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