I forgot – did I forget to remember to forget?
Bishop’s Mantle column by Jim Bishop
It’s happening to me more and more – and it’s quite disconcerting. I bump into someone I know in a public place and, if not in a rush, we stand and exchange pleasantries. The next thing I know, another person comes up, and courtesy dictates that I introduce him or her to the other party.
Only problem: Try as I might, I can’t remember the third party’s name.
So, I go the impolite route and skip introductions, feeling discomfited for my lack of civility even as the mental cogs spin and slip. Typically, the name or names come to mind as soon as we part company.
An alternate scenario – someone approaches me and expresses appreciation for something I’ve written – always an appreciated gesture. Usually I don’t know this person, so I ask who they are. We talk for a minute or so, and I realize that I’ve already forgotten their name.
What is my problem? Am I a poor listener? Are there short circuits in my short-term memory control panel?
What I particularly don’t understand is why I so readily forget names or even appointments that I’ve put on my calendar while at the same time endless trivia flows freely through my cranium – anything from the lyrics, year, artist, label and chart position of an obscure song from the 1950s to an episode of “Leave It to Beaver” or a commercial with Bucky Beaver promoting Ipana toothpaste to an murky incident from childhood – any of which I can recite on command.
These flaky facts from yesteryear frequently reverberate down the cobwebbed corridors of my mind as I drive home from work, remembering about the time I pull in the driveway the several items that I was supposed to pick up at the grocery store. Sometimes, I fear I have a proclivity to conveniently “forget” certain encounters – particularly those that become unpleasant and should be followed up with an eye to resolving conflict rather than allowing the antagonistic feelings to fester. Then there are interactions where I agree to honor a request that would be easier not to comply with, hoping they’ll slowly evaporate.
Absentmindedness does not make the heart grow fonder … even as I get older. Might the short-term memory malady that seems to accompany aging be the culprit or at least a convenient scapegoat? Will clutching a bothersome bouquet of Forget-Me-Nots be my lot for the rest of my life?
The one consolation I have is that my sympathetic spouse is in this with me, and in fact, we seem to be traveling the same circuitous journey along absentminded avenue. We were at a local café ordering soup and sandwiches and I reached in my wallet for a twenty-dollar bill I knew was there. But after repeated searches, I couldn’t find it, as the young lady at the register stared sympathetically – or was thinking, what’s with this poor pathetic deadbeat?
Fortunately, I was able to scrape together enough cash to cover the check, but we left wondering what had happened to the misplaced currency.
Later, Anna discovered the bill in her purse. She thought she’d given it to me, as did I, but neither of us could remember the transaction taking place.
Local psychology professor P. David Glanzer says these experiences “are a normal part of the aging process,” noting that a bigger factor in forgetfulness is “how much multi-tasking is going on and the degree of attention being given to what’s happening at the moment.
“There’s a part of the brain that stores peoples’ names,” he said. “You might be under stress or not be as alert as you should be, and if so, you’ll forget persons’ names more readily. It doesn’t automatically suggest early stages of Alzheimer’s.
“The best way to work at this process is to devote more attention to what’s going on, then you actually do less multi-tasking to compensate,” added the good professor, who is only a couple years younger than I.
So … listen up, focus, concentrate are operative words for the long-term haul. I had several more points to make on this exasperating issue, but I’ve forgotten what they are.
Er, what were we talking about?
Jim Bishop is the public-information officer at Eastern Mennonite University.