Would you forget?

I heard part of an interesting story on NPR the other day featuring a (very funny) scientist who was studying memory. As she recounted her research — dealing particularly with painful memories — she used the example of her father, a Holocaust survivor. He refuses to talk about, or even acknowledge, his experiences, and she wonders if he has literally forgotten the memory. Or something like that. I, of course, was in the car, came into the story late, and missed the ending. Frustratingly, I can’t find it online to read or listen to it fully.

But still, it got me thinking. If I could forget a painful memory, would I? It made me think about what memories I have that I consider painful, and it made me feel fortunate that not a lot comes to mind. What I did think about was my mom’s death, still a raw wound, and would I choose to forget the pain of that if I could?

Somehow, I don’t think so, as I think to forget would somehow dishonor the experience and, by default, her.

But some other painful experience, perhaps less personal? Maybe. Something I saw that haunted me (in looking for the story I heard online, I skimmed this article that led with that idea); a memory of embarrassment; an annoying person or experience perhaps?

I don’t know. Maybe my reticence has something to do with the “that which does not kill us makes us stronger” philosphy. Or the idea of owning your life, warts and all.

But still. What about forgetting a memory of failure? Maybe if you can forget falling off the horse…or the wagon…or the relationship…you would lose the fear that holds you back and keeps you from trying again. Or does that simply mean you wouldn’t learn from your mistakes? Is memory a gift? Or a curse?

Maybe someday we’ll have that choice to make. To remember or to forget. I’m glad I don’t have to decide right now.


One need not be a chamber to be haunted;
One need not be a house;
The brain has corridors surpassing
Material place.
~ Emily Dickinson, “Time and Eternity”


  1. Friday, January 25, 2013 at 9:30 am

    I don’t know if forgetting would be a big help without also being able to go back and undo the stupid/embarrassing/painful things I’ve done 🙂 I think I fall more with you, living life warts and all and knowing that problems and heartbreak have made me a stronger person. Lessons learned that I don’t have to live again do keep me out of some trouble these days. Perhaps we should even own one those sashes that Girl Scouts get — a place to keep the wonderful, horrible, hilarious, frightening, awesome badges we’ve earned.

    • WritingbyEar said,

      Friday, January 25, 2013 at 9:51 am

      Ahhhh — experiential flair! I love that idea. I am well on my way to being an Eagle Scout.

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