Friday, September 9, 2011


“Try To Remember” is the first song in The Fantasticks, the long-running musical show.

Try to remember when life was so tender

That no one wept except the willow.

Try to remember when life was so tender

That dreams were kept beside your pillow.

Try to remember when life was so tender

That love was an ember about to billow.

Try to remember, and if you remember,

Then follow....

We try to remember all of our lives: words, faces, names, times tables. But there comes a time when remembering becomes harder. We apologize for our Senior Moments and worry about Alzheimer’s. And by now we all know or have heard of someone actually stricken with severe memory loss and have heard of the anguish this causes them and their families.

We work at remembering. Mnemonics, named for the Greek goddess of memory, Mnemosyne, help us to name the colors of the rainbow, the order of the planets, the music lines and spaces, the Great Lakes: Roy G. Biv for red-orange-yellow-green-blue-indigo-violet. Mary’s Violet Eyes Made John Stay Up Nights Pondering for Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Pluto (lately demoted, but still part of the mnemonic.) FACE, Every Good Boy Does Fine. HOMES.

But maybe we should take another look at forgetting. A touching moment in the original Star Trek episode “Requiem for Methuseleh” ( has Dr.McCoy saying of Kirk’s grieving “I do wish he could forget.” And Spock, placing a Vulcan hand on the head of the sleeping Kirk, says “Forget.”

Mnemosyne was a Titan, a predecessor of the Greek gods and goddesses, and the mother of the Muses. Her counterpart, Lethe, was only a river god in charge of forgetting. However, the shades of the newly dead were required to drink from Lethe, the stream of oblivion named for the god, in order to forget their earthly lives before passing into the afterlife.

When the subject came up last week, Bruce, a brilliant young violinist who never forgets anything, said that in the Chinese culture, not so much urgency was attached to the memory facility of the old folks, or even to their behavior. We hold them in high regard for who they are to us, great-grandfather, great-aunt, not for anything they do or did, he said.

Maybe we cause our forgetful family members unhappiness by urging them to remember, I thought. I thought of conversations centering on some symptom of forgetting which caused sadness on both sides. “She couldn’t even remember her brother’s name.”

Shared memories are integral to our relationships, and yet we loved little children before we had any common memories.

Sometimes I think of my friend Arlene as the Defender of the Aged. She has worked with old people for most of her adult life and once did a study where she played music to nursing home patients believed to be in a persistent vegetative state, the end-stage of forgetfulness. Measurable brain wave activity arose in some of these patients after they heard the kind of music they had liked when they were younger.

“You remember Ram Dass’s book, Be Here Now?” Arlene asked me. “We thought that staying in the present moment was philosophically and psychically something we should strive for. Remember how we all worked so hard at our yoga so we could stay in the Here and Now? Well, these old folks, the ones who can’t remember, they are there, right in the middle of Here and Now.”

Mosaic from the first century B.C. depicting symbols of Apollo (center) Mnemosyne (top) and the nine muses. Clockwise: Calliope, Urania, Polyhymnia, Erato and Terpsichore, Melpomene, Thalia, Euterpe and Clio.


KC said...

Thank you, Mikie! This is both comforting and stimulating. If I could only focus on one thing at a time, I would worry less about all the distractions out there in my peripheral vision. Maybe there is a good reason we start to lose our peripheral vision as we age, so we can just focus on what's in front of us! :o)

Camille said...

Beautiful post! Thank you!