Forget The Small Stuff

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Forgetting Actually Helps Us Remember

by Eric Elkin

Take care that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
— Deuteronomy 6:12

Memory is such a critical thing for life. Schools teach it at the earliest of ages. Memorizing letters are essential to understanding words. Remembering words are crucial to language. The older children get, the more education depends upon memory. They will need to remember numbers, multiplication tables, dates and the social impact of movements. 

Nothing frustrates a parent more than a child who cannot remember. They know how important it is for financial security and health. But, what if you couldn’t forget? Would that be a good thing? If you were to ask Alexandra Wolff, she would tell you the inability to forget is not fun.

Ms. Wolff is one of fifty-five people in the United States who suffer from a condition known as highly superior autobiographical memory. People with this condition cannot let things go. If you were to ask Alexandra about August 2, 2013, she could tell you every detail of the day. She could do the same for August 2, 2003, and every other day in between. 

Alexandra Wolff cannot forget anything. Imagine reliving every illness. Or, spending every day dwelling on a child who bullied you in elementary school. Alexandra says, “It’s almost like time travel.” Except, the only place you can travel is the past. As a result, it compromises her relationship to the present and the future.

There is one day Alexandra loves remembering. It is summer, and she is twelve years old. She spent the entire day wearing a bathing suit and playing with her ten-year-old cousin. They laughed, swam and ate macaroni and cheese. Alexandra said, if she allowed herself to, she could live in that memory all the time.

“The brain is plastic—adaptive—and one feature of that is not just strengthening some memories but also suppressing or weakening others.”
— Anthony Wagner, Stanford University

Our ability to forget maybe more healthy than you ever imagined.

Two researchers at Stanford University suggest forgetting irrelevant memories helps us remember the important things in life. Anthony Wagner, associate professor of psychology at Stanford University, says, “The brain is plastic—adaptive—and one feature of that is not just strengthening some memories but also suppressing or weakening others.”

Wagner, and his graduate assistant, Brice Kuhl, think the constant adjusting of memory allows the brain to develop the ability to predict what current events will have enduring significance. I cannot remember anything about June 10, 1986. However, every detail of June 14, 1986, remains forged in my memory. It was the day I married my wife.

The text says, “Do not forget the Lord.” Some may hear this as a law, or as a religious guilt trip meant to spoil your vacation. I suggest you remember the Lord on vacation. While you sit in the summer sun surrounded by friends or family, remember the Lord. Then you will understand why there is a reason to give thanks - life. Because remembering the life discovered in love, joy, and peace are important things

Deuteronomy 6:10-15.

Reflection Questions:

  • How good is your memory?
  • How patient are you with people who forget?
  • Where has an inability to forget harmed you?
  • When has remembering the Lord made a difference in your life?

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