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Slice of Life 1: A birthday to forget

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.

img_0382A 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.


slice of lifeThis 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.

17 Comments

  1. Leigh Anne

    Happy birthday! I really do think there is something to maximum capacity in our brains. I find that the older I get, the more I forget, but reading this post doesn’t make it sound that bad! Saunder’s address might be a good thing to use for a found poem or even a black out poetry. Thanks for the link.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Happy belated birthday! “I will forget things and it will be nice.” I am going to remember that when I start feeling anxious about things. And thanks for the reminder about kindness – so important in these times where we we are seeing so much of the opposite.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m joining the chorus and wishing you a very happy birthday and . yes, I agree with your eloquent case for forgetting about birthdays. I never thought I would but a few years ago as bigger things were happening in my life my birthday just didn’t seem as important as it always was.
    I’m thinking more about this now,
    Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I am breathless as I finish reading your piece. I want to post it on my refrigerator door. I want to return to reread it every day. Perhaps being kind and celebrating whatever is noble and loving in ourselves and others is the most important thing we can do – and we shouldn’t save it for our golden years. Wishing you a very happy birthday and a great year, Tricia!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Happy birthday, Tricia! I love spending my birthday without fanfare. If I ever get to the point where I can forget it’s my birthday, I will count it as a sweet success. Hope you get to squeeze in some self care in there.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Happy Birthday, Tricia!!! I love the idea of this, of growing older and forgetting and loving. Let’s hope that this might be the case for all of us. I’ll carry that forward to my own birthday that is coming soon. Hugs!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. principalkatie

    Happy birthday Tricia! This is such an interesting and DIFFERENT perspective on this idea than I had when I first heard this person quoted. Someone at violin camp this summer said to my daughter’s group class that sometimes the brain needs to forget. For those of you who know suzuki, it’s all about building a common repertoire and reviewing that repertoire is a critical element of learning. But there was this moment when the group of kids had clearly mostly forgotten a song. And having to relearn it, revisit it as their older, more experienced selves, was really powerful. It was like through revisiting a song they had forgotten, they were able to reflect on how they had grown as violinists. I’m not sure I’m really expressing this correctly, but I think about it often when my daughter and I return to a song she hasn’t played in a while, and she seems to have forgotten ti– “sometimes you need to forget.”

    But reading your piece, I love the idea of forgetting, getting older, and this leading to more kindness.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Reading this before finally going to bed, and it was just the message I needed to hear today. I wonder if becoming mostly loved doesn’t in large part depend on being able to forget. This was soon beautiful, Tricia.
    Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

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