Occasional thoughts from a young adult reveling in the messiness of life.
The year was 2002. I walked into my creative writing class to find my professor and a few of my classmates sitting with a man unknown to us. He would be our guest that day, and it turns out that it was a day that I’ll never forget.
The class was small, with no more than 12 students in total. Outside, it was a bright, beautiful day, and the light felt even brighter because we had the lights off in the small classroom.
Our guest was an older man, his skin tone dark and warm. It quickly became clear that he was not from the U.S. His face bore the marks of a life lived voraciously–his skin was weathered and his eyes drew you in with their deep, dazzling darkness. He spoke softly but deliberately. He was an oral storyteller-poet.
He didn’t write anything down. The juxtaposition baffled me. A writer who didn’t write. He would compose such beautiful stories and poems and speak them aloud, but as quickly as the sound of the words left his lips, it would all vanish into the air.
As soon as the realization hit me that I would never encounter his stories and poems again, I tried scribbling furiously to write down everything he was saying. My hand ached as I tried to keep up. But I couldn’t. I kept watching the words disappear–never to be remembered, never to be captured, never to be heard again.
By the middle of the class, I stopped trying. It hit me that I was in the presence of something beautiful and unique that I knew I would never experience again, and the entire time, I was worried about how I would remember everything. Instead of being in the moment, I wanted to record the moment.
Toward the end of class, he asked us to call out a word–any word–and he would compose something about it.
I called out “elephant,” and what he said has stayed with me:
“Big is never big enough when you’ve forgotten how to forget.”
I sat still and let the words wash over me.
So often, we see forgetfulness as something to be looked down upon; until that moment, I had never considered it to be a virtue.
But as I look back at that day, and all the days that came before and have come since, I see that remembering can sometimes be the vice.
For me, there are times when I’m so worried that I will forget something that I end up missing the experience altogether. And then there are those memories that I wish I could forget. How beautiful a thought it is to revel in forgetfulness–to so fully live in a moment that the feeling of the experiences that you want to stay with you, will, and to be able to let those that you don’t want to stay with you simply fade away.
How I wish that I were truly big enough to remember how to forget.