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By Jim Kempton
There is a serious concern today about the importance of memory—whether about the history of atrocities, the dates of catastrophes, great wars or even your spouse’s birthday. Which, if you forget the last one, can likely create the first three.
Nevertheless, forgetfulness may be a useful hindrance for remaining both sane and serene.
In Albert Einstein’s biography, there is a beautiful story recounted by one of his students. After listening to a lecture on the “Theory of Relativity” given by Einstein, the student happened to see his erstwhile professor later that day at the entrance to the university’s cafeteria. As the story goes, he approached the revered thinker with a request.
“Sir,” he said, “I wonder if you could be so kind as to answer a question I have about the physics of the universe.” Einstein readily complied, quickly providing a concise and comprehensive explanation. When he finished, he said, “Now, I wonder if you could be so kind as to answer a very important question I have as well?”
“Of course!” said the young scholar, thrilled to be asked anything by the supreme scientific mind of the 20th century. “Well,” said Einstein, “when you stopped me here in front of the cafeteria, was I coming in or going out?”
The student thought carefully for a moment and replied, “You were definitely coming out sir.”
A look of relief came across Einstein’s face. “Oh good, very good,” he surmised. “That means I’ve eaten.”
Forgetting whether I’ve eaten lunch or not is probably the only thing I have in common with the world’s greatest physics theorist. We may both wander about, consumed by relative riddles, (in my case, which relatives will be attending the annual camping event) but at least Einstein had an excuse. He was busy discovering the mysteries of the cosmos. I, on the other hand, not only can’t remember if I’ve eaten, I sometimes forget at which restaurant I left my credit card after arriving back home.
Speaking of always forgetting, how about computer entry passwords? The only person these supposed security codes prevent from breaking into my computer is me. And today, computers require more than just one password. A different password is required for each and every site, media platform, app or program. So, after trying the half dozen ones I most commonly install, the smarmy little machine shoots back a pop-up: “User name or password is incorrect.” Well, could you at least narrow it down to one of the two?
But to return to my original premise about lack of memory being a good thing (which I had altogether forgotten about), there are five all-important things that can help make a healthy, happy life. Laughter is the vitamin we need to take daily. Purposeful work is the exercise for mind and body. A loving family is the chicken soup that nourishes the soul. Forgetting everything bad is the potent antibiotic that prevents infection. Shoot, if I could remember the fifth one, I wouldn’t be late with this story.
Jim Kempton is an Orange County writer and memorialist, who struggles with vague recollections of his editorial deadline until his long-suffering editor reminds him (monthly) that his due date hasn’t changed for the last nine years.