“Forgetting” When You Have To

In examining conceptions of memory and forgetting, I find myself wondering how memory and forgetting could possibly be apart from one another. It seems to me that the simultaneous function of the two is what makes life bearable.

When dealing with experiences that seem unfathomable (to use a term that has adhered itself to some corner of my mind since the start of our course), some things may need to be “forgotten” in order to continue living. I do not use the term “forgotten” to represent a complete absence of recollection, but rather to signify a more superficial and temporary absence from immediate consciousness.

In experiencing the loss of a loved one, for example, this particular kind of forgetting seems necessary at least to some extent. Of course this does not mean to put the memory of the person out of your mind completely and finally, but to carry on in day-to-day life, a kind of forgetting must be allowed so as to avoid being consumed by grief and unbearable sadness. Often, this seems to be one of the most difficult things about losing a loved one; this kind of “moving on” and “getting back into the swing of things” requires a kind of putting-out-of-the-mind of the loss that one has just experienced. This can lead to feelings of guilt as a person takes a moment to realize the act of “forgetting” that they are engaging in as they re-enter their school or work routines. This usually comes in the form of thoughts like, “How can I be laughing and having fun when —– is dead?” or guilt upon realization that a day has gone by without thinking of the one who has died.

The reality here is that this kind of “forgetting” is not really forgetting at all, but rather just another human survival mechanism that makes it possible to live a life that is not crippled by grief. If humans were incapable of this “forgetting”, the losses and tragedies we experience would build up and quickly become unbearable.

The human mind is terribly and beautifully complicated. I believe memory and forgetting are wound together in an intricate web that may or may not be possible to untangle, though to try is an interesting and rewarding undertaking that I find myself increasingly glad to partake in.

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