Bass Mitchell: Is forgetfulness all bad?

Bass Mitchell

Three elderly sisters lived together. One was 96, another 94, and the last 92. One evening the 96 year old ran some water in the bathtub and was about to step in when she shouted down to her 94-year-old sister, “Was I getting in the tub or out of it?”

Her sister yelled back, “How am I supposed to know? I’ll come up and see if I can help you.” So she started upstairs, got half way up and shouted down to her 92-year-old sister in the kitchen, “Was I going upstairs or coming down?”

Her sister shouted back, “How am I supposed to know?” Then she said to herself, “God keep me from getting that bad, knock on wood,” and she knocked on her table. She shouted, “I’ll come up and see if I can help you as soon as I see who’s at the door.”

Sometimes I admit that I find myself in a situation like this farmer. He was out standing in the field one day holding a rope and scratching his head. He couldn’t remember if he had a lost a cow or found a rope.

And then there was that really embarrassing moment. There I was sitting in my office. The phone rang. On the other end of the line I heard the worried and slightly agitated voice of a woman. She said, “Are you OK? Where are you? You were supposed to pick me up 40 minutes ago. Has your watch stopped? Can you tell time? Didn’t you get that far in school?”

It was getting nasty.

As you may have guessed, the woman was my wife. I forgot to pick her up. She was not amused. I wasn’t too happy about it either, for a lot of reasons, not the least of which was that I would never ever be allowed to forget that I had forgotten.

I began to wonder if age was catching up on me. Someone once told me that there were three signs of old age. The first one was forgetfulness … I can’t remember the other two.

And I believe it was the same fellow, can’t remember for sure, who told me this is why God doesn’t let older people have children. “Why is that?” I asked. “Cause they’d lay them down somewhere and forget where they put them!” he said.

We can laugh at our forgetfulness sometimes but we all know that having a good memory is pretty important. I remember seeing a woman come in and sit beside an elderly lady who was in a wheelchair. The woman said to her, “Hello, mom. It’s Susan, your daughter.” The woman just stared at something across the room … Lose your memory in that way and you pretty much lose yourself.

There is so much we need to remember … shining moments in the past from which we can draw encouragement for the present, persons who have meant so much to us, even mistakes we have made so hopefully we will avoid them. How does that old hymn go? “Precious memories, how they linger, how they ever flood my soul…”

But is forgetfulness all bad? Yeah, we forget things we really need to remember, but maybe we also remember things we really need to forget. All memories aren’t precious, are they? My sense is that much pain of body and mind can be traced to an inability or unwillingness to forget.

I had the experience of being in a courtroom not too long ago. It was fascinating. Sometimes one of the lawyers or the judge would say, “Strike that.” Whatever was said, in other words, was to be stricken from the record and no longer remembered. It never happened. It sure would be wonderful if it were that easy to strike out memories we do not need to keep on the record.

Maybe nations, too, would be better off if they didn’t have such a good memory. Just imagine it. Suddenly, cases of memory loss break out and spread among the populations of say the Middle East or even here in America. Forgotten are the injustices, the hatred and bitterness, the racism, the pain of the past. All that’s left are people with a chance to make better memories together.

Or imagine the immediate improvements in so many families if suddenly whoever said whatever, whoever did whatever or didn’t do whatever were all forgotten forever, stricken from the record? All that’s left – family to love and new memories to make.

Life is just too precious and brief to spend it dredging up a past that poisons the present and the future. So yeah, maybe a good dose of targeted amnesia would be just the thing to help make our world a better place.

Excuse me a moment. My phone’s ringing.

“Hello? Yes, dear. I won’t forget. 11:50. That’s a.m., not p.m. Got it. No, I won’t forget. Yes, I know where to go. Yes, that’s exactly an hour, 15 minutes and 25  seconds from now. Right. Yes, my watch is correct. No, it’s still ticking. I can hear it. No, no need to call me again. Yes, I’ll remember…”

Sorry about that. What were we talking about?

Bass Mitchell is a writer and pastor in New Market. One of his favorite quotes is from Rita Mae Brown: “One of the keys to happiness is a bad memory.”