Born to be Addled

Addled sounds a little like wild, doesn’t it? That’s what I was going for. It’s not easy to put a clear title on one’s ruminations on the topic of abject confusion, my least favorite state of mind.

I don’t drink, you know. Very rarely and never if I’m going to be driving. That’s my rule. But the underlying reason is not simply fear of disaster and felony charges. It’s not that I think alcohol is inherently evil, though it  certainly has been the instrument of nearly infinite human suffering. Responsible drinking by healthy adults is OK with me, just not generally OK for me. And not because it’s fattening and expensive, although that’s also true.

I don’t drink because it clouds the mind, obscures the consciousness. One of my main goals on any given day is to go forth seeking clarity. And my poor brain is just about as fuzzy now as I want it to be.

No no no no I don’t … no more. 
I’m tired of waking up on the floor.
Ringo Star (youtube)

Case in pitiful point: A few days ago, I was obliviously shopping in the nearest Trader Joe’s. As I reached up for some cans of tuna, someone behind me spoke my name. I turned and shook hands, exchanged greetings, with a man whose face was very familiar. But I couldn’t place it.

My little brain jumped through the usual lists: work, church, writers’ groups, civic, condo association, etc. Finally I had to give up and admit I needed his help.

It turned out to be a man who has lived with his family across the street and one house down from my parents, for roughly the last 3 decades. I’ve stopped and spoken with him before, and seen him from a distance maybe a thousand times.

I was embarrassed. I blathered some stupid remark about being used to seeing him from a distance, complimented recent improvements to his front yard, etc. He was cordial and did not kick my ass right there amongst the produce, as much as I had it coming. But everyone wants to be recognized. Otherwise, it is far too easy to feel too lightly valued by others.

The thing is, I do value other people. I care and I really want to see people and know them and be friendly and inclusive. And I’ve heard other people over the years say things like, “I’m terrible with names.” This makes no sense to me. You’d think that the ability to recognize faces and identify known individuals would be systemic, universal to the evolution of our species. Otherwise, how would our kind spot enemies and friends and survive in a potentially hostile world?

There is a world of difference between momentary failure to recognize someone – the sin I’m confessing – and forgetting them altogether, which I hope I never do. I mean regarding others with indifference.

“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.”
– Elie Wiesel

This past spring, I heard my name called by another person who recognized me. I turned and recognized an old friend, whom I had not heard from in 12 years. I had assumed that she moved away and her life changed and so it goes. But she’d been living here in this very small town, where my number is in the book. She’d never bothered to call, that’s all. But we were glad to see each other, talked for a while, and agreed to email and to meet for coffee. She said she was moving away in a few months.

I emailed her a week or two later, as promised. She replied saying a few weeks later would be better to meet, so let’s connect again. I emailed again in that time, but have heard nothing since. Three more months have come and gone and maybe she’s gone too, maybe not. In any case, that’s indifference.

It’s important that we know the ones we know. They matter. And nobody wants to disappear.

C‘est la vie.

I guess I could Google how to improve your memory for faces or something. I’m sure there are tips and tricks abounding. Not the point. It’s perplexing that I don’t already have a reliable app for that.

Chatting over the bananas in Trader Joe’s, these lines of T.S. Eliot came to mind, as they often have over the years:

Let the whiteness of bones atone to forgetfulness.
There is no life in them. As I am forgotten
And would be forgotten, so I would forget
Thus devoted, concentrated in purpose. And God said
Prophesy to the wind, to the wind only for only
The wind will listen. 

— Ash Wednesday

1 thought on “Born to be Addled

  1. What a thoughtful, and thought-provoking post. I admit I am terrible with names the first time I meet people. I remember the face and almost always remember the details of their lives that they share in first meetings – but the names seem like balloons that float away as fast as they tell me what they are. When I was in high school I read a book called The Memory Book, which gave many useful techniques to remembering things – lists, names, etc. – and I was fascinated by it. At the time I didn't need to use it to remember names, but I bet if I took the time with each new person I meet to create a visual link between their names and one unique detail about them it would work.Aside from the names, though, you get to the heart of what matters – we want to be recognized, and remembered. When we make the effort to do that for people we encounter, we contribute something to their lives, even in a few moments' time.

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