The art of forgetting


There is a disease called hyperthymesia. Those with this disease have a hyperactive autobiographical memory. They can remember in acute detail the majority of the events that have occurred in their lives.

What would life be like if we could remember everything that has happened to us? There may be moments that would remain sweeter with the remembering, but then again, there are moments that would become more bitter. If you can remember every detail of your life, it also puts you in the sad state of living in the past, constantly rehashing things that have already happened, unable to move forward. We take for granted the gift that is our tendency to forget.

Yes, it has its disadvantages, obviously. But forgetting is also liberating. We are unburdened from remembering so sharply the wrongs that we have done and the people that we have hurt. Life would be pretty miserable if we could remember acutely all the awful things we’ve done. We are all flawed and I already feel haunted by some of the mistakes I’ve made. I couldn’t imagine not being able to forget some of my past. It would make it impossible to forgive myself and live in the present.

When I finished my undergraduate degree, the dean of my college gave a speech that has stayed with me. He talked about the art of forgetting. He talked about how our minds act like sieves, keeping the important items and letting the rest filter through. Forgetting allows us to focus on what is most important and remember those things. The rest can be forgotten.

In the scriptures we are constantly reminded to “remember.” We, by our nature as fallible human beings, forget not only mundane minutiae, but we also forget things of paramount importance. We must deliberately choose what we remember because we are so easy to forget. It’s just how we’re built.

I have a difficult time letting things go, people most especially. Once someone is in with me, they are in and I will be loyal to them. For a long time this loyalty was to a fault. I would let people who were close to me walk all over me and treat me like trash. It was hard for me to recognize what they were doing because I would never want to do things like that to my friends.

For years I let this pattern continue until I realized that I didn’t need to hold on to everyone in my life, that it was OK to let people go. I also had to realize that not everyone has to like me. I try really hard to like everyone, but that doesn’t mean that the converse needs to be true. I can’t control other people.

I figured if people want me in their lives, they will make the effort to reach out to me if I’ve let them go. And so far, this has proven to be true. I’ve been able to see who my true friends are and realize which relationships are worth holding on to.

Having this mentality of being able to let people go and let them be in the past has been so healthy for me. I had a friend tell me a couple years ago that her mom always said that people come into your life for a reason, a season, or for a lifetime. That gave me a whole different perspective on my relationships with others. Sure, it takes time to see which category people fall into, but it makes both holding on and letting go easier in some respects.

There is an art to forgetting. We shouldn’t forget the past because it’s painful. That knowledge is what helps us to progress, to not make the same mistakes. We shouldn’t let go of people because things get hard. We should hold on to the memories and the people that make us better, that propel us forward. The things that bring us down may at times be things that are necessary to remember and hold on to, but sometimes it’s liberating to leave it behind and forget.

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