Do you ever forget things?



I certainly do.

I forget small things, big things, and things of an intermediate size.

In the realm of forgetfulness I do not discriminate. I can say with confidence that no matter who you are or what your station in life, there is a good chance I will forget something essential about you.

I joke, but this characteristic of mine is not something I am particularly proud of. In fact, it is a little unsettling sometimes… for me and those around me. Not only do I forget things, but also the rate at which I forget them seems to be increasing.

I have actually taken tests and been told by people who study these things that I am not unusually forgetful for a guy my age.

But still…

We all know that forgetfulness increases as we age. It is just the price of entry into the Golden Years on Planet Earth. There was an article in the July, 2011 issue of Psychology and Aging that tells us that, “Problems with remembering, learning and retaining new information are a few of the most common complaints of older adults.”

News flash!

But then the article goes on to explain why this happens and says, “… memory performance is usually related to the active functioning of three stages. These three stages are encoding, storage and retrieval.” I am not a psychologist, but I what I think they are saying is that remembering something has to do with how you classify it, how you store it, and how you go and get it from the storage area.

Makes sense.

As I reflect on this process a bit, I think my biggest problem comes in the first phase of the process: what the experts call “encoding.”

See… at the rate information swirls around us all day, we have to have a way to sift through that torrent of “stuff” and decide what to toss away and what to keep. Brain cells being the finite things they are, we can’t keep everything. Or at least I can’t.

(This whole discussion reminds me of that Far Side cartoon where the kid raises his hand in class and says, “Mrs. Schmidt, may I be excused, please? My brain is full.”)

And here at the encoding stage is where I think I get into my biggest trouble. Because one of the first ways I seem to “encode” something is by whether it is: A.) IMPORTANT, Or B.) NOT IMPORTANT. And when something gets labeled as B.) NOT IMPORTANT, it is virtually guaranteed to slip right through the cracks of my otherwise steel-trap brain and fall right out onto the floor.

So, for example, when my wife sweetly calls up the stairs to me and says, “Hey… when you come down, could you please bring that blanket with you? You know… the one I want to wash??…” my mouth says, “Sure! Be glad to!” but my brain seems to say something more like, “Blanket, schmanket. I’m busy doing important stuff here up in my office. I’m writing blog posts and sermons that will SAVE THE WORLD! I can’t be bothered with BLANKETS!”

And then, of course two hours later, I come down the stairs empty-handed. And, of course, Joan sweetly asks, “Did you bring that blanket with you?” And I, of course, slap my palm against my forehead and say, “Oooo! Sorry! I forgot!”

So you see… the point here is not really about forgetting. It is much more about the process that I (or any of us, for that matter) use when we choose to call something IMPORTANT or UNIMPORTANT.

How do we make that choice? Is it based on how relevant I consider the thing to be to me personally? Is it based on the bearing I believe it has on The Future of Civilization As We Know It? Does it have to do with my perception of imminent danger or lack thereof that is involved?

Or is it something else entirely?

Even though we might need to do it to prevent sensory overload, I believe it is a dangerous, and I’ll even say SINFUL process to begin dividing things up as either important or unimportant. I mean, think about it: how many times has something that appeared totally irrelevant one day – through a change in circumstance – become highly relevant the next? How many times has MY personal “filter of importance” been shown to be incomplete or deficient in some way, revealing that a thing I might have called unimportant was actually VERY important?

And where this process really gets slippery is when you stop to think how easily we might shift from classifying THINGS in terms of their importance to classifying PEOPLE in the same way.

Deciding and assigning degrees of importance to events or people is probably beyond my pay grade. It is something that should be left to a Divine Creator, for example… someone who has the perspective of infinity.

It brings to mind the long and beautiful exhortation we find in chapters 38 through 40 of the book of Job. We get to listen in as God lovingly and artfully shreds Job in a speech designed to remind Job just how limited human beings are and how unlimited God is.

Humans should not, God says, presume just because we have received the power of reason that we know anything at all about how the universe works.

“Can you lift up your voice to the clouds, so that a flood of waters may cover you? Can you send forth lightinings, so that they may go and say to you, ‘Here we are’? Who has put wisdom in the inward parts, or given understanding to the mind? Who has the wisdom to number the clouds? Or who can tilt the waterskins of the heavens?” Job 38:34-37, NRSV.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth… and the single-celled amoeba and the banyan tree and the duck-billed platypus, and the intricate, multi-faceted human being, and the gnat. And God said that ALL were good and ALL were important.

Because it ALL matters to God.

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