I almost forgot that it was my birthday today.
To be fair, it wasn’t actually my birthday. Perhaps forgetfulness is one of the side effects of having a Leap Day birthday in a non-Leap Day Year.
That said, I think I also forgot because I’ve been too busy—too busy to remember.
For too many reasons to count, this school year has been a particularly challenging one. For some reason, I thought it would be a good idea to fill in as interim department chair, take on an action research program, and teach a brand new course all at the same time. Just last week, I spent no less than 15 hours on online scoring training for the new course, which has been a worthwhile if not exhausting experience so far. Add to that the many afternoons running my boys from basketball practice to piano lessons to prep—and I’m pretty sure I’m squeezing in more than 24 hours in a day. (Maybe that Hermione Granger time-turner necklace I have really does work.)
Still, I wonder if forgetting my birthday isn’t just another thing that happens as we grow older. Last year, I read Benedict Cary’s How We Learn, and in it, Cary argues that forgetting is actually a necessary part of learning. Our brains must consciously and deliberately forget what they deem no longer useful in order to free up additional cognitive space for us to learn new (perhaps more useful) skills and information. Maybe as I grow older, I’m just getting really good at freeing up all that cognitive space.
Several years ago, as part of his class’ 100-day school celebration, my oldest wrote a brief paragraph on what it would be like to be 100 years old. His observation (as the wise six-year-old he was then): “When I am 100, I will forget things and it will be nice.” And so perhaps I’m just getting to 100 a little bit sooner.
“When I am 100, I will forget things and it will be nice.” That line always makes me laugh. It will be nice. The worry, fear, anxiety—eventually these will all be forgotten. And what will be left will just be us: me, you, those we love. Perhaps forgetting is what ultimately makes us more human. We forget about the things that don’t matter so that we can finally arrive at those things that do.
A few weeks ago, I had my students read George Saunders’ commencement address at Syracuse University in 2013. In it, Saunders encourages students to be kind. It’s a simple message, but according to Saunders, since we inevitably grow kinder as we grow older, why not speed things up a little? Be a little kinder now. After all, of all the regrets he’s had in life, Saunders candidly reveals that the things he regrets most are “failures of kindness.”
I love Saunders’ speech (and the whole thing is worth the time). Here’s more:
One thing in our favor: some of this “becoming kinder” happens naturally, with age. It might be a simple matter of attrition: as we get older, we come to see how useless it is to be selfish — how illogical, really. We come to love other people and are thereby counter-instructed in our own centrality. We get our butts kicked by real life, and people come to our defense, and help us, and we learn that we’re not separate, and don’t want to be. We see people near and dear to us dropping away, and are gradually convinced that maybe we too will drop away (someday, a long time from now). Most people, as they age, become less selfish and more loving. I think this is true. The great Syracuse poet, Hayden Carruth, said, in a poem written near the end of his life, that he was “mostly Love, now.”
And so, a prediction, and my heartfelt wish for you: as you get older, your self will diminish and you will grow in love. YOU will gradually be replaced by LOVE.
As you grow older, your self will diminish and you will grow in love…. until you, we, are replaced by love. What a beautiful idea. It’s hopeful and life-affirming in all the ways I need life to be affirmed, not only during a busy school year but also amidst these increasingly uncertain times.
So as I turn another year older, I’ll embrace the forgetfulness. And instead, I’ll focus on remembering that it’s kindness to ourselves, and especially to others, that matters most.
This post is part of the Slice of Life Challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers, who have created a space for writers and teachers of writers to come together. To learn more about this challenge, click here.