fear of forgetting

I’ll never forget a statement made by Damien Echols while leaving prison after surviving death row, wrongly convicted, for 18 years. He said that he was already forgetting what life was like behind bars. Only a few minutes of separation removed himself from those decades of hardship.

I stop. Is that how quickly humans can move on from such a significant chapter of their lives?

Thinking back through my life, I feel the same way. I’m a different person than the one who went to high school in a small, coastal town in Maine. Lived through four years of college, graduated, worked as a college admissions counselor, lived and volunteered in Scotland, was a fourth grade teacher. They make up the different phases of me, feeling more and more familiar as they escalate to my current position, sitting on my couch in Germany, writing next to my sleeping puppy. This begs the question, has my past already begun to disappear? As much as each phase was important to me at the time, I have never felt more myself than at this moment.

As the future versions of me come to fruition, I worry that my current phase will lapse into the past, adding another book to the shelf, only to collect dust and disappear more and more each year until it evaporates into nothing. I don’t like to forget these morsels of time.

This begs the question, what about this moment in time will I remember in a year, in fifty years? What do I want to remember? What makes certain moments stand out?

Being on a military base, I see people in uniform. They fill the commissary, the sidewalks, the seats of the car passing by. I hear shooting drills, sometimes lasting all night. Helicopters flying overhead, tanks passing by.

What will truly stand out in my memory is that I’ve stopped noticing these things. They now fit snugly into my routine, along with my daily dog walks while listening to a true crime podcast. While I’m making bread in my kitchen, my little black puppy curled up on the floor at my feet. Walking next door to a friend’s house to borrow a pan and have a chat. It’s weekend adventures to Prague and planning what to do for our next trip. It’s train rides back home from the city, closing my eyes and holding hands, listening to German announcements.

I believe I’m holding onto this version of my life so tightly because I feel content. The current me doesn’t feel stress like the past versions have, a gift I have Josh to thank. We have few material items, but we have what matters.

But, as much as I love this phase, it’s temporary. That’s one of the deep-seated secrets as to why I’m enjoying it so much. It has an end date, and I’m trying my best to soak it all in before it begins to dissipate in my memory. I’ll hold onto these details, no matter how seemingly insignificant, for as long as I can.

As I voice these thoughts to Josh, he looked at me and made a single statement.

“Think of each phase as evolving into the person I am, not erasing the person I used to be.”

His words eased my worry. We are made up of layers, not separate versions of ourselves, building our wisdom as we age. Even though we forget details about the past, those lessons learned will emerge from our subconscious when we need them the most. As I try to let go of the fear of forgetting, each moment becomes even more purposeful.

I am the best parts of the versions that came before, as are you. Instead of building my collection of dusty novels on a bookshelf, I am adding chapters to an ever-expanding single book.

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