Forget It

11 Feb
Two Forgets equals a Remember…

I’ve enriched my life in many ways by remembering things, but forgetting has its benefits too. It’s a known fact that forgetting is a necessary part of human function. As a National Geographic article on memory put it, “If everything we looked at, smelled, heard, or thought was immediately filed away in our long term memory, we’d be drowning in irrelevant information.”  While it’s good to know that forgetfulness keeps our heads from exploding, there’s more to it than that: forgetting can lead to more surprises–and thus a more joy-filled life; two “forgets equals a remember” (I’ll explain later); and forgetful mistakes can actually create some wonderful memories.

Let’s start off with the idea that forgetful people have more surprises.  Unlike the Clarks nutcracker, a bird that buries thousands of pine nuts every fall and can find almost every one of them later, I often can’t remember where I placed my car keys five minutes earlier. This key-hunt invariably leads to the frantic shuffling of over stuffed drawers, the shaking of every coat within reach, and the disturbance of couch-napping cats. 

One morning, ten minutes after I should’ve been somewhere else, I was on the hunt. My tabby cat saw the “I’m late” look on my face and leapt from the couch before I reached her fur-covered blanket.  I ripped the blanket off the couch, sending a blizzard of fur into the air.  For a moment I admired the light reflecting off the floating gray and silver hairs, my own version of stopping to smell the roses. 

As I excavated, a tape measure hit the ground and rolled to my feet: Perfect, I need that for work.  I continued peeling back the layers of the couch with all the finesse of a two-year-old in a sandbox, and other items revealed themselves. A few dollars in loose change, a packet of spinach seeds. I stuffed them into my pockets and rushed to the kitchen.

Midway through a kitchen drawer, it dawned on me that I had left my keys on the front seat of my van that morning while I was looking for something else. The idea, you see, was so I wouldn’t have to look for them later–I had managed to forget that I had thought ahead. The key hunt, though, had led to money for coffee and my tape measure, so oh well … 

On the way out I stopped at the garden.  Using two fingers I trenched a couple of rows and sprinkled the spinach seeds into the soil. Better do it now, I thought, or else you’ll forget to plant the seeds. I covered them up and drove off to wherever it was I was late getting to. A few weeks later while constructing a sandwich, I yearned for some greens to top it off.  It was a sunny day, perfect for eating outside. Imagine my joy when I discovered baby spinach growing in my garden.  Surprise, surprise.

When all that forgetting and remembering gets to be too much, I try to sneak away for a little fly fishing.  But there’s no escaping.  One afternoon I found myself hip-deep in a river, longing for the flies I had tied specifically for that trip. I could see them in my mind’s eye, sitting in a neat row on a desk at home. I trudged back to shore for a snack.  A family of ducks bobbed past me and I wondered if animals forget stuff.  Animals live mostly in the present, a constant state of “it is what it is.” Maybe I’m like those ducks.

As I pulled an apple from my pack, an opaque canister fell out: Flies I had tied for a previous trip and forgotten about filled the canister to its rim. I had what I needed after all; I had forgotten my flies but also forgotten that I had already tied some a month earlier proving my point that two “forgets equals a remember.”  

I’m not condoning being irresponsible, of course. Forgetting can lead to unsafe situations and disaster. My wife, Lori, and I are always reminding each other to blow out candles and to make sure the stove is off.  We set alarms on our fancy phones and write notes to ourselves on the smallest pieces of paper we find so we can’t find them later. Our wedding vows even included a line about helping each other look for our keys.

And speaking of our wedding, I pulled one of the grandest “forgets” of my life on our big day. With an 11,000-foot snowcapped peak on one side and the people we hold dear on the other, Lori and I faced each other for the ring exchange–two ceremonial wooden rings I had carved myself.  The moment came: her eyes glistened, people in the audience sniffled. Without breaking eye contact, I reached for the rings. Oops.

With a giant grin, I whispered, “I forgot the rings.”

Forcing a slight smile, she replied, “You’re kidding,”

“No,” I whispered back, trying to suppress a gut-busting laugh. “I’m not kidding.”

Only one person could find the rings and that person was me. So I turned to the audience, held up a finger, and yelled, “Hold on a second!” I ran barefoot up the stone driveway with one thought in my head: This will be funny for about two minutes. After sprinting from my van to our room and back to my van again, I was ready to give up. On my way back I saw the old tea-tin that held the rings, exactly where I had left it when I gave them a shine that morning.  I scooped it up without breaking stride. A few minutes later, I slipped the ring on Lori’s finger. We were husband and wife, united in forgetfulness.

Hardly a visit goes by with friends and family where we don’t relive the infamous ring incident.  It’s like I said: forgetting is often a good thing, because in this case everyone remembers that I forgot the rings.

The Ring Incident

Note: This essay is a nice twin to my essay about laughter. If you enjoyed reading this piece then hop on over to Man’s Best Friend. 

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Ryan Chin is the author of Without Rain There Can Be No Rainbows, a multimedia memoir about his teaching experience in New Zealand. He likes to call it a pet and teacher memoir sandwiched into an overseas adventure. The book is available at Amazon, B&N, iTunes, and locally at Powell’s Books. He keeps a stack on his dashboard for random giveaways so if you see a Chinese guy driving a big white van, throw a piece of fruit (preferably something soft like a banana) at his windshield; he might stop and give you a book. In between standing at the kitchen sink, changing diapers and napping with ear plugs, he can be found writing in his garage. In between all that stuff, he swings a hammer as a licensed remodel contractor (Gin Fu’s Home Improvement LLC). Give him a shout if you need some windows. And in between all the above, he helps Lori operate a preschool out of their newly remodeled basement (Little Green School House).

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2 Responses to “Forget It”

  1. Harry Hitzeman June 6, 2010 at 6:27 pm #

    Thanks for the story , Ryan. Looks like it was a beautiful wedding. May you always forget to be unforgiving to each other.

  2. BRETT June 9, 2010 at 4:21 pm #

    The ad above when I read this was, “RECLAIM YOUR BRAIN! >Improve Memory >Increase Attention”

    LOL.

    “Two forgets equals a remember.”

    CLASSIC.

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