My mom, soon to hit 92 years, says in old age you forget what you ought to remember and recall what you ought to turn loose of.
Remembering has always been a problem for God’s people. “When you come into the Promised Land,” Moses warned the children of Israel, “and move into houses you did not build, take over crops you did not plant, and eat victuals you did not grow, then beware lest you forget the Lord.” (Deuteronomy 6:12)
The theme of half the sermons from Old Testament prophets was the same: “Remember, O Israel.” A classmate of mine at the seminary wrote his doctoral paper on the Hebrew word “Zakar,” “remember.”
But there is a lot to be said for forgetting, too. Much in our lives does not need to be retained.
Now comes the story of 42-year-old Jill Price, a California woman who remembers everything. Not that she wants to. Ever since she was 8 years old, beginning in 1974, her mind appears to have switched on some feature the rest of us do not have and wouldn’t want in a thousand years. From 1980 forward, she has “near perfect” recall on everything.
By “everything,” we mean what she had for dinner, what she watched on television, the news that night, the temperature, conversations, everything.
Jill Price’s story is told in a new book–Newsweek of May 19, 2008, calls it “the weirdest book of the year”–by the title “The Woman Who Can’t Forget.”
A professor of neurobiology at the University of California, Irvine, James L. McGaugh, has studied Jill Price for five years, giving her every kind of scientific test imaginable, and coined the name for her condition: “hyperthymestic syndrome.” It means her memory is over-developed. Which is like saying the Eiffel Tower is tall. Is it ever!
Over these years, Professor McGaugh has found two other persons afflicted with the same inability to turn loose of yesterday. One of them, Brad Williams, 51, a radio announcer, remembers everything back to age 4, and like the other two, is a compulsive collector of memorabilia (beanie babies, “Flintstone” junk, etc).
Jill Price admits she was a pain to grow up with. “I was always correcting my parents about things they claimed I had said, or that they had said to me, which, as you can imagine, didn’t go over very well.”
Newsweek reporter Jerry Adler writes, “But the sobering thing about Price’s book is how banal most of her memories are. The days go by, lunch follows breakfast, 10th grade turns inexorably into 11th and a lot of the time, as McGaugh says, you just hang out.”
My hunch is not a single soul reading this has given thanks lately for the ability to forget. I know I haven’t. But I will from now on.