The human brain is a powerful organ.
It’s so powerful that when you’re young or middle-aged, you don’t pay much attention to it. You don’t have to.
It’s there when you need it, helping you learn all sorts of complicated new stuff and remember things—even coming up with dazzling solutions to problems when you least expect it.
Facing the fear of forgetting
However, as you age and read scary news about Alzheimer’s Disease—and it’s all scary—you grow concerned. You may ask yourself whether your brain will keep doing what it’s been doing so well for so long.
Or will nasty plaques and tangles accumulate unseen in there and slowly wipe out your ability to think or remember or do the simplest task by yourself?
Or even if that doesn’t happen, how about your ability to remember the names of people and places and things from the distant past? Names of movies and TV shows and actors and baseball players and songs and co-workers. Names of all the classes you took and the people you went out with and the books you read and ….well, the list goes on.
I worry about this a little, and I’ve noticed that sometimes it takes a bit longer than it used to for me to recall a name. But I’m not really concerned because the way I see it: my brain is like a rolodex.
Don’t remember those? Well, before everything went digital, people had them on their desks at work.
The brain as a metaphorical rolodex
A rolodex had a stand and a wheel where you could insert cards with people’s contact information.
It was sort of a status symbol. The more cards you had in yours, the more powerful you were. Which led to a sort of Rolodex Envy in some circles.
I realize that this metaphor is so last-millennium. Still it’s useful because—if you think of retrieving a name from a card on a rolodex—it’s clear that the more cards in it, the longer it may take.
Especially, if they’re all jammed in there haphazardly. And having cards in alphabetical order obviously doesn’t help, if you can’t remember the name of the person, place, or thing you’re trying to remember.
A real life example of how this works
A few weeks ago, I went to IHOP for breakfast. I got the Senior Special 2 x 2x 2 (skipping the 2 bacon stripes), paid the bill, and was on my way out when I heard music, the first four words of a song, “You….are….so….beautiful”
Only those words, and I was out the door. I said to myself, “That is…….[pause as the cards whirled by]…….Joe….Cocker.” I had his name before I got to my car, and I hadn’t thought of Joe Cocker for years and years.
You’ve never heard of him? Think Woodstock. Never heard of that? Well, it’s all last-millennium.
I’m not the only one
I didn’t think so much about this, until a week or so later when it happened again. Only this time, it happened to someone much younger than I. (Let’s call him Lawrence.)
We were chatting at a gathering when someone came up out of the blue and asked him the name of a little cake or biscuit which he’d mentioned months before when he was telling a story.
Lawrence was caught completely off-guard. He wasn’t expecting the question. He didn’t remember the name. So he went on talking to me. And a few minutes later, he said “kasutera.” That was it.
He had the answer; he just needed time to rifle through the rolodex cards. And he did it while he was talking about a completely unrelated matter.
How about you? Do you sometimes forget the name of someone or something that you know? Do you worry when that happens? Do you do anything special to try to remember? Or do you just relax and trust that the answer will come? Do you ever get really frustrated and go Goggle it? I’d love to hear your thoughts about it.
image by toky