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How Do You Remember?

Maura Art - Rearview Mirror book cover.jpg

I'm frequently teased for failing to recall names, faces, places and sometimes even the simplest words.  


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. I 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.  I was playing with that nice girl who lives in the apartment on Ridge Road." Even then I was beginning 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. I once made an introduction of my husband, 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 shake with 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 I had an 80 – 90% likelihood of having no idea of the name of the person I was talking to.


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 escape me.  Sincerely interested, I would cringe at the thought my secret would be disclosed and their feelings would be wounded. Kaley 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 overlooked.


“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 show began. 


"What are you doing?"


"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 I was perfectly serious. "Diane, there’s a chance I could get on the air and introduce myself as you!"


I’d alternately lament and obsess over this decades-long illness. It 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 with an apparently different form 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 would. I could play back for them amazing details of their lives that spoke of their interests, dreams, personal stories of pride, conquest, love, etc. Sometimes, these marvelous memories included details they’d forgotten about themselves!


Those kinds of memories have always spoken to me. I have always loved to remember 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 been 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 seem to 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 didn’t arrive during our medical missions trip to Honduras. 


There are classmates I’d only years later learn were drug dependant who, though never sharing classes with me, would smile during homeroom or whisper hello passing in our high school hallways. Kindness.


And, though I haven’t seen him in decades, I once remember a cousin who pulling me up out of the water and into his motorboat. In very gentlemanly manner, he overlooked the noticeable wardrobe malfunction that followed after my swimsuit strap had broken during a water skiing spill.  What Kindness.


We choose to save memories in many and diverse ways. Though I’d never planned it, I now look in my rearview mirror and recognize that 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 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! 

Maura is an International Speaker on Self Leadership and Emotional Intelligence

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