Forgetting and Being Forgotten

If I mailed a letter to the ones who have forgotten me, would they open the envelope? Would they bother to read the words it took me so long to put down on paper? Would the effort I made to retrieve old memories matter to the ones who have forgotten me?

I could ask myself the same questions about a letter I might receive from a forgotten someone. I think I know the answers. I would read their words, feeling shame I had forgotten them. I would feel guilt and remorse I had forgotten a person whose tenuous happiness may have rested in part on the knowledge that at least one other person cared enough to remember them. I would have contempt for myself for failing to care enough to take precautions against forgetting someone who needed to be remembered.

And I would remember I, too, have been forgotten. I, too, needed to know at least one other person cared enough to remember me, but chose to forget. Chose to let our shared experiences disappear, replaced by memories of people who mattered.

The reality of forgetting is that people remember what matters. There’s no room for, no need for, guilt that my brain sorts out the wheat from the chaff. Yet when I remember how I ignored someone who may have needed to be noticed, I realize I did not forget what matters; I simply pushed that recollection to the periphery. I remember, even when I want to forget. It is that class of memory that stabs at me, pokes at me, pries at my sense I am, after all, a decent human being. Would a decent human being allow the memory to ebb?

Distance and time and important matters that demand our consideration allow us to forget. If I were paying attention, I would notice I am allowing people who matter to disappear from my life. It happens slowly, at first, but then one day the rare memories simply disappear like a child’s huge blown soap bubble striking a blade of grass.

When I receive that letter, the one from someone I knew long, long ago, I might recall a giant bubble floating in the breeze. In my mind’s eye, I might see the iridescent surface of the bubble change colors as it spins and changes shape in the wind. And I might hear the laughter of young children, delighted at the wondrous thin film separating air from air and dreams from memories. But when the bubble disappears in a silent explosion, laughter turns to sobs and from once bright young eyes tears flow at the inexplicable loss.


These thoughts flooded my mind this morning, for reasons that remain unclear. Perhaps I miss people who matter and fear we will allow ourselves to forget one another. Or maybe I remember people who, long after I forgot them, stumbled back into my life for a brief time and then stumbled back out. I do remember some of those people; and I recall some of them seemed to need, deeply, to be remembered. Yet I allowed them to stumble out. Or perhaps I’m the one who stumbled out, again leaving them to assume they have, once again, been forgotten.

Losing touch is not the same as forgetting, but it has the same impact. It says, in effect, “you don’t matter enough for me to make sure you know where I am.” Or, on the other hand, after giving someone your new address and contact information, you might learn you didn’t matter enough for them to keep it. But maybe that’s just absent-mindedness or disorganization. The fact that it can be confused for disregard should be sufficiently cautionary to change bad habits, though.

I readily admit I’m overly sensitive about too many things. Maybe we all are. There are too many people in our lives for anyone to expect everyone we touch to remember our birthdays. But Facebook insists on reminding even people we’ve never met about our birthdays. I read a quote some time ago that I have tried to take to heart, but have had a tough time doing it:

“You probably wouldn’t worry about what people think of you if you could know how seldom they do.” ~ Olin Miller

The thing is, I realize I am not on the minds of most people much, if at all. But I’m concerned (for reasons unknown) that on those rare occasions I’m on someone’s mind, it’s because they are thinking I’m not someone with whom they’d want to spend much time. Of course, I feel the same way about many of them, so there you go. There aren’t many people I like. But those I do, I generally love with a passion. Perhaps the intensity of my admiration and appreciation is scary. It can be scary to me.


On a completely different subject, one of my dozens (or hundreds or thousands) of fantasies is to be able to create an educational institution for people between the ages of 17 and 23. Entry into the institution would be competitive and would be based on tests that measure knowledge in several areas, interests, ability to concentrate, and manual dexterity. Students would be exposed to a rigorous curriculum in which they would be expected to demonstrate proficiency. The curriculum would include mathematics, language and literature, chemistry and biology, social sciences (including sociology, government, and politics), and a range of courses in subjects commonly known as “the trades,” including wood-working/shop, mechanics, HVAC, etc, etc.  As students progress through the curriculum, their interests and capabilities would be closely monitored. Students who excel in “college bound” courses would be guided toward college and the subjects that most interest them; students who excel in the trades would be guided toward the trades that most interest them.

Every student, though, would be expected to complete the curriculum with a sufficient grasp of all subjects to enable them to function as contributing members of society. When a kid come out of the school (and college) with a degree in sociology, he or she would be expected to be knowledge about the discipline but also would be sufficiently knowledgeable and capable to change tires, replace spark plugs, troubleshoot HVAC system problems, and handle household welding and plumbing projects. Kids who move into plumbing would be expected to be able to engage in intelligent conversations about societal change, archaeology, literature, and drama.

Pipe dream. Pipe dream. Pipe dream. I wish my “liberal arts” education had exposed me to more of the “trades” than it did. For that matter, I wish I’d been forced to learn more about chemistry and mathematics and engineering. It’s not that I don’t have the wherewithal to learn about those subjects/activities now; I just don’t have sufficient energy and discipline. If I did, I might go to medical school. I wonder if medical schools would accept 66 year olds? I should hope not; we don’t need to invest the kind of money and time required to become a doctor in someone whose time practicing medicine is so certain to be time-limited.


Why do I write so much crap when I know few,  if any, people will read any of it and fewer still will read it to the end? Because I have to write. Just spill my guts and, on occasion, unleash my creativity, as dark and dangerous as it can be. I have to. When I was in the hospital last year and after I returned home and had little energy, I couldn’t write as much as I wanted and needed to. That was a dark time; my writing energy was wasted. It’s wasted now, too, but at least there’s the potential of someone worth reading. I’d better get in gear to write and/or select poems for this Wednesday night’s reading. I have thirty minutes. Enough to arouse and rile up the audience.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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