Forgetfulness

October 28, 2020
Tim Lien

As a child, whenever I would fail to accomplish a task given by my dad, I would erect a flimsy legal defense: I forgot, dad. “No,” my dad would counter, “you just didn’t care enough to remember.” Of course, he was right—my forgetfulness always seemed to reject the arduous and inconvenient in favor of my own leisure. Forgetting was a willful act of blotting out all Tim-inhibitors. Selective memory helped create a different story in which the chores were done and no demands had been placed upon my head. Forgetting was freedom. That is, until The Great Remember-er remembered.

Forgetfulness is not considered much of a blessing these days. It conjures an absent-minded hermit mumbling to himself as he hoards wrappers, assorted screws, and aluminum can tabs. “Now where did I put that Post-It note,” he says aloud, “it’s got to be here, somewhere.” As the camera slowly widens, the frame reveals Post-It notes covering every surface. In obsessive fear of forgetting, the task of remembering becomes overwhelming.

Forgetting is our mark of decline and deterioration. Forgetting is a sign that a physical body is losing faculty. My dad was plagued with Alzheimer’s disease. Recent events were the first to be forgotten. Then family members. Older histories, childhood. Then he forgot himself. And finally he forgot how to chew his food and swallow—The Great Remember-er forgot how to eat and died in a small hospice facility in Bellflower.

We must not forget. We will never forget. Never ever forget. “Those who don’t remember the past,” says the poster in every high school history class, “are condemned to repeat it.” (George Santayana) I couldn’t find a poster that says, “Those who remember have no excuse.” They should be sold as a set. Kurt Vonnegut was less cheery: “I've got news for Mr. Santayana: we're doomed to repeat the past no matter what. That's what it is to be alive." This was clearly written before Kurt drank his morning coffee.

Modern tracking and logging promises to remember everything. Digital movements are logged, mapped, and recorded. Apart from taking great lengths to mask your footprints, every search and  website you’ve ever visited is cemented in giant climate-controlled rooms with rows of servers. Think of the future digital
archaeologists and graduate school papers: “The Neo-Racist Polemics and Narcissistic Pornification of Post-Modern Suburban Angst as Seen in Grandpa “Ted” McDigglesworth, Circa Early Twenty-first Century: A Complete Annotated Catalog of Google Suite and Gmail Transcription.” Remembering may be a frightening prospect for the McDigglesworth family.

Crypto-currencies extol their ledger. The ledger does not forget. It tracks, maps, accounts, tabulates, and encodes all ownership and transfers, duplicating and multiplying the history in an unbroken chain. There is no breaking the ledger. We will not forget.

There is a strange allure to all this remembrance and accounting. We will track, tabulate, and cement every misdeed, every slight, especially if we are on the pointy end of the stick. When the time is right, when a catalytic event explodes, we have data. We have the ledger. Block-chained to our synapses, we call forth evidence. It’s never about the explosion. The explosion is only emblematic of the ledger. This tiny event is but only wee illustration of what’s always been happening. See? Here, here, here, and here. Grey matter is a terrifying vault.

The ledger has another column, too. We will meticulously record the wonderful acts of service that we’ve selflessly rendered to our spouses and families. We build capital with our nobility, most likely to later spend on ourselves. But who’s keeping track in a marriage? No one, of course: we’re a team! But everyone, too. No one forgets everything I’ve done for this family!

What if we remember all the wrong things? What if we forget all the wrong things? What if we are broken in our forgetting, broken in our remembering? What if God is most excellent and perfect in his remembering and forgetting?

In a culture of remembering every moment solidified in pixels, every meal framed in Gaussian blur, every movement recorded in Maps, every interaction codified in irretrievable texts and emails, I awoke to Psalm 130. This morning I woke up to a God who forgets what I remember:
If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities,
O Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness.

This morning I woke to the God who remembers what I forget:

Remember not my transgressions;
according to your steadfast love remember me,
for the sake of your goodness, O LORD!
(Psalm 25)


His perfect, selective forgetting creates a different story in which the chores are done and His demands have been placed on Another’s head. His perfect, selective remembering is my freedom from an unchangeable ledger.

The Great Remember-er cares enough to forget.

2020 The Way - SGV