Earlier this month, I listened to a podcast on Radiolab that blew my mind. Called Memory and Forgetting, it highlighted a woman whose photographic memory allowed her to see every single day of her life in crystal clarity, just like watching a DVD. I imagined being able to go back to my own days that mattered and see them clearly, not wrapped in a fuzzy emotional fog. To be able to drill down and point and say, “That was the moment that I loved. That was when I was hurt. That was when I got better.” I envisioned putting my best memories in the fridge under cellophane so I could pull them out for seconds whenever the urge struck.
Unfortunately, my memory is more like a trash compactor, stuff goes in and an unrecognizable blob comes out.
I was reminded this weekend how shoddy my memory is. I was back with my friends from middle school and it was a weekend of “Really? I don’t remember that.” In fact, for years I have believed that this group of friends came together in seventh grade, and I learned instead that it was eighth grade. If I can’t get big things like that right, little details like whose house we slept over at that time or whose car we were driving that road trip don’t have a chance.
But after spending 20 hours talking non-stop to a group of women I haven’t seen in 25 years, I suddenly realized it didn’t matter that I couldn’t remember the events clearly. As we reminsced about our past, talked about our present and dreamed about our future, we started up where we left off, just like we were kids again. And, as we brought up old wounds that needed to be bandaged and shared old stories that had inconsistent details I realized precision and accuracy wouldn’t help.
In fact, it might have hurt.
I came to the conclusion that longevity of relationships is less about memories and more about moments. It’s not about the watching the crystal clarity of a DVD, but remembering how those moments made you feel, how those people made you feel. It didn’t matter that I couldn’t remember it was eighth grade, not seventh. Or that none of us could remember how many slumber parties we had shared or who was at which one. It only mattered that we had shared some of our hardest growing years with each other — that we had a shared experience. And, sure there had been real moments of pain, times when we had let each other down, hurt each other or been less than we wanted to be. But with 25 years between us and those moments, it was easy to leave those memories behind. After all, why let them infect the here and now? Each of those memories was fleeting and built on the fragile egos and misunderstandings of teenagers.
It was the moments that mattered.
In the end, I wasn’t jealous of the woman with the amazing memory. I wouldn’t want to lose the ability to move beyond the unintended slights or the micro-aggressions. There are everyday failures that need to be left behind with shoddy memories so that relationships can thrive, so that we can focus on the long narrative and not the paragraph. You need to know in your heart that even though you had a reason to be angry or hurt or let down that you can say, years later, “It doesn’t matter now.”
Because life’s too short to say no to a beautiful moment.