Hoping to Rekindle My Memory

Hoping to Rekindle My Memory

Older folks will understand why I love this story. Younger folks can read it as “a preview of coming attractions!”

A man about my age was walking down the street when he saw another man approaching. As they got face-to-face, the first man said, “I’m sorry. I know we’ve met. But for the life of me, I can’t remember your name.” The second man looked at his shoes for a moment. Then he looked up and said, “How soon do you need to know?”
Certain kinds of memory loss are no laughing matter; ask anyone who’s close to someone who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. But for many of us, normal aging involves memory glitches that create some pretty funny situations. Take it from a 75-year-old who knows!
At least once a day, I go upstairs to get something, only to forget what I’m after by the time I get there. So I go back down, hoping to rekindle my memory by returning to the site of my original inspiration. Then I realize I can’t even remember where I was when I embarked on this ill-fated adventure!
An old Irish saying declares, “There are three things that are real: God, human folly, and laughter. The first two are beyond our comprehension, so we must do what we can with the third.” I am so totally down with that!
OK, where was I? Oh, right. Here, for laughs — plus a dash of poignancy — is “Forgetfulness,” another great Billy Collins poem…

by 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.

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is a columnist for On Being. His column appears every Wednesday.

He is a Quaker elder, educator, activist, and founder of the Center for Courage & Renewal. His books include Healing the Heart of Democracy, A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life, and Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation.

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