I’m not sure if it’s a matter of selective memory, an age-old issue with near-sightedness or something else entirely, but I never seem to recall things the way other people do.
I remember arriving home one afternoon after a happy day of play. I was five-years-old and had spent hours with a girlfriend. When my mother inquired who I was playing with, I couldn’t remember her name. What I did recall was what was apparently relevant to me.
“Ah…you know. It was that nice girl who lives in the apartment on Ridge Road.” Even then, I was developing a long pattern of finding ways to move the subject matter from first names to the kindness of others.
Most people blame fading memory on advancing age, but I’ve always had difficulty. A few years after we married, I introduced my husband by referring to him as John. It would have been a mannerly gesture… had I remembered that my husband’s name is Jimmy!
Luckily for Jimmy, he’s got a fabulous sense of humor and is well acquainted with his often daffy wife. Not missing a beat, Jimmy extended his hand to the new acquaintance.
“Hi, I’m Jim Sweeney. John is Maura’s other husband.”
Over time, Jimmy merely understood my malady. He’d always find a kind way to walk up to someone with whom I was speaking and put out his hand in personal introduction. He knew there was an 80 – 90% likelihood that I’d have no idea of the name of the person I was talking to.
Even our daughter caught on quite early to this name recall disability. Nearly always in tow, she’d often accompany me in public when we’d encounter otherwise familiar and pleasant faces.
I knew these people, yet somehow, their names would still escape me. Sincerely interested, I would cringe at the thought that my secret would be disclosed. I hated to think that their feelings might get wounded. My daughter would silently observe me employing all kinds of clever verbiage and creative greeting techniques to avoid referencing people by name.
Whether I fooled others during the exchanges, I don’t know. Perhaps my enthusiasm and genuine interest in their lives caused them to overlook the rather obvious. Yet my social amnesia wasn’t completely missed.
“You didn’t remember her name, did you?” my eight-year-old would ask, matter-of-factly.
“Was it that obvious?” I’d ask, deflated.
Only yesterday morning, as I filled in for our third host on our State of Happiness radio talk show, my co-host Diane Kutz watched me scribble names before the program opened.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
“Writing down our names.”
She smiled. “I can see you’re writing my name and Brenda’s . . . but why are you also writing your own?”
I laughed hysterically, yet my point was perfectly serious. “Diane, there’s a chance I could get on the air and introduce myself as you!”
When it comes to name recollection, I’ve spent decades battling both lament and anxiety. The condition bears no medically sanctioned name and offers no magic pill to correct.
Yet oddly and rather conversely, I can see that I do remember. It’s just that I choose to remember people in different ways – and with an apparently different sense of recall.
I could always pull up the most random, miniscule and even cryptic details of peoples’ lives. The same individuals (who may or may not have realized I couldn’t recall their first names) have often been stupefied by some of my recollections.
“Maura, I can’t believe you remembered that!” they’d marvel.
Yet I could and would. I could pull up amazing details of their lives that spoke of interests, dreams, personal stories of pride, conquest, love, etc. Sometimes, these marvelous memories included details they’d forgotten about themselves!
Those types of memories have always spoken to me. I have always enjoyed remembering other people’s happy thoughts. I’d store them in my own heart and incorporate them into a personal treasure chest of good news stories that, once prompted, could be easily and fully retrieved.
Most people would not understand what it’s like to live inside my head. I’m alternately wise and zany, thoughtful and scatterbrained. Whether its people I’ve known, companies I’ve worked for or places I’ve visited, they often vaporize into my very dreamlike, yet highly thoughtful, mind.
Which brings me to my question: How do you remember things, people, events,or just about anything else?
While there is much I don’t remember, there is quite a bit that I do. I remember things through the lens of Kindness. That’s right – Kindness.
Here are some of those memories built on Kindness…
I remember all the strangers who have helped me find my way. Frequently lost or directionally challenged as I like to say, I’ve had perfect strangers direct me through cities like Sarasota, Florida and New York City and distant places like Rome, Italy and Buenos Aires, Argentina.
I remember fellow dance students at my St. Petersburg College classes who walked me, endlessly, through routines I either didn’t understand or couldn’t physically apply.
I remember Cheryl who, though a stranger at the time, shared her limited clothes with me when my own scrubs got lost during our medical missions trip to Honduras.
There are classmates who, though never sharing classes with me, would smile during homeroom or whisper hello while we passed in our high school hallways. Kindness.
And, though I haven’t seen him in decades, I remember a cousin who pulled me out of the water following a nasty water skiing tumble. In very gentlemanly manner, he overlooked the noticeable wardrobe malfunction that ensued from the broken strap on my swim suit. Kindness, indeed.
We choose to save memories in many and diverse ways. Though I’d never planned it, I now look in my rear view mirror and see my memories are housed under a single file: Kindness.
I may not share a memory bank that’s typical of others.
But the manner in which I do store memories apparently keeps me very happy.
I am likely forget your name. I’ll probably fail to memorize your face or even the manner in which we met. I do hope you’ll overlook the apparent, yet unintended, oversight.
Yet chances are good that I’ll remember your Kindness.
As I recall life by kernels of Kindness, may you find some equally wonderful – and happy – way to store memories of your own!