Once when I was about 8, I was riding my bike on the sidewalk in front of my house. When I got to my neighbor’s oddly-angled driveway, the bike twisted, toppled over, and slid into the street, dragging my knee across the rocky pavement. I remember the shock of bright red blood covering my skin, and I remember crying hot tears and calling out for my mom. But I don’t remember the pain, the actual sensation of being hurt. Try as I might, I cannot make my knee sting or ache. I can’t summon that wound anymore.
Do you remember the first time you fell and scraped your knee? The first time you fought with your best friend? The first time you had your heart broken? Memories can be quite powerful, and yet just as the details fade — was it light or dark outside? hot or cold? loud or quiet? — so too does the force of the emotions that go along with them.
This loss of vibrancy is both a blessing and a curse. If we remembered with full strength every incident of our past, we would be crippled by the weight of our lives, never able to move forward. But if we forgot everything we experienced, then we would move forward blindly, which is as pointless as not moving at all.
The ideal — as with most things in life — is to strike the right balance. Between remembering and forgetting. Or perhaps more accurately, between remembering and letting go.
After that time, I continued to ride my bike, but I approached new terrain with more caution. I continued to disagree with my friends, but I learned to do it more thoughtfully. I had my heart broken again, but this time I knew that it would heal, and I made note of the warning signs I had ignored and the missteps I had taken, so that I could avoid them in the future.
These themes have been on my mind a lot this weekend. Pain, heartache, remembering, forgetting. I worry about our country’s collective memory. I worry about our resistance to change.
I worry, but also, in spite of my fears, I hope.
And I don’t know if bad things necessarily happen for a reason, but I do believe that we can — and often must — create reason in the wake of bad things.