After re-watching Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind last night (which, may I suggest, you do the same – it’s a Netflix instant stream and an emerging classic), I was reminded of the powerful appeal to forget. The name of the movie is based on a poem called Eloisa to Abelard. The lines go:
As we become who we are, it is tempting to explore and then erase the unpleasant or unsuccessful experiences we encounter. We cycle through this “explore – experience – erase” pattern and call it life or becoming an adult or moving on. Since actual memory deletion is impossible outside of the film, in real life we become experts at “forgetting.” Through busyness or addictions [work, exercise, food, sex, alcohol] or constant moving or changing directions or new relationships or simply training our minds, hearts, and friends to ignore something to the point of its disappearing, we erase all remainders of pain, hurt, rejection, and failure from who we are.
The truth is, however, that we need those experiences to become, to grow, and to love. Clementine and Josh (in the movie) learn this the hard way. Forgetting is not all its cracked up to be; it’s neither freeing nor healing.
The alternative to forgetting is embedding:
“To accept life in its disjointed pieces is an adult experience of freedom, but still these pieces must lodge and embed themselves somewhere, hopefully in a place that allows them to grow and endure.” -Richard Sennett
The point, I think, is not to live out of, or in reaction to, or because of life’s disjointed (and often painful) experiences. Rather, the point is to discover where these experiences can embed themselves into your life. Not to forget, but to embed.
Life is perhaps little more than the accumulation of memories that come together to build the narrative of who we are. While we have some degree of choice in the memories we create (i.e. the decisions we make about our lives), we have much more autonomy in what we do once experience becomes memory. The hard work of freedom and healing is not to forget and move on, but to embed and endure and become.