So much is buried in our lives that we forget what we have learned.
– Harley King
In his autobiography Mark Twain revealed a problem we all have in dealing with the past.
Twain, perhaps the best raconteur America has produced, said he’d often told the story of a dream that predicted his brother Henry’s death.
It was a really good story and Twain told it well and apparently told it often. But after one such public recollecting of the dream, a friend asked Twain a question many of us are asked: “Did that really happen?”
The friend, I believe he was a judge Twain knew well, said he had to ask because there were stories of his own that he had talked about for years only to discover, while reviewing the written record, that he was wrong.
Twain wrote in his autobiography that when he couldn’t honestly convince himself that he had really had the mysterious dream of his brother, he decided to quit telling the story of it.
I suppose we have all been there.
We remember good times and bad times from our collective pasts, only to be surprised when we find out we have been remembering it wrong.
For example, last month when my son got his grades from his first college semester, I was asked how his initial college success compared to my own. I assured everyone we were similar, but when I eventually looked it up, I discovered academic disappointments I had long forgotten.
Yes, I know. Older people have memory problems and the older we get the more we have.
At least there is a reason.
“When you are young, your brain is able to strengthen certain connections and weaken certain connections to make new memories,” said Dr. Joe Z. Tsien, a neuroscientist at the Medical College of Georgia at Georgia Regents University and a co-director of the GRU Brain & Behavior Discovery Institute.
According to research he and his colleagues are doing, older brains get into trouble because they cannot discard some things as quickly as young brains do. This bogs us down when we get old.
As we age, the research shows, our heads become as cluttered as our closets and we have trouble mucking through the memories.
Think of your garage. Think of that junk drawer in the kitchen. Think of your car’s glove box or arm-rest console.
They are full of junk and every time you look inside, you have to deal with all the old stuff you put there. It’s the same with our memories.
It’s the problem many of us older Americans now have, the problem older people have always had: It isn’t what we don’t know that gives us trouble, it’s what we know that isn’t so.
I didn’t say that, but I did remember that Will Rogers did.
How could I forget?