What to Remember and What to Forget

One of the keys to living the life we dream of is not allowing certain things to stick to our hearts and minds, while at the same time not jettisoning what has true and lasting worth.  I heard someone say, “We remember things we need to forget and we forget the things we need to remember.”

All of us have been to a memorial service for someone we admired or have visited the many memorials that make places like Washington D.C. so fascinating.  Of course, anniversaries and holidays, like July 4th, have much the same function.  They act like Velcro for certain values, reinforcing our commitments and reminding us of what is significant and noble.

But often we make memorials to offenses or failures and each time we visit these monuments, they grow bigger and become more entrenched.  Memorials, whether they are good or bad, only remind us of the past, they don’t change it; their only power is in shaping the future.

Teflon Coasted

Both Presidents Reagan and Clinton, you may recall, were referred to as being “Teflon-coated.”  Controversies swirled around them, and yet they seemed to survive unscathed.  There are things that shouldn’t stick to us either, otherwise, like an old vinyl record with a scratch, our mind plays the same memory over and over.  It reminds me of the husband who confided to a friend that every time he and his wife got into an argument, she became “historical.”  His friend responded, “You mean hysterical, don’t you?”  “No”, he replied, “she always brings up everything I’ve ever done wrong!”

The reason we need Teflon hearts and Velcro values is that life’s challenges, regardless of how devastating they might be, are a pause, an interruption, maybe even a setback, but the story isn’t over.  Like the popular radio newsman of the 70s and 80s Paul Harvey, who would share his inspirational and memorable anecdotes called, “The Rest of the Story,” so our story is unfinished, so long as we don’t keep pushing “replay.”  Perhaps the reason he told these stories, which always came with a surprise ending, was revealed when someone asked him the secret of his success?  He simply replied, “I get up when I fall down.”

The Phoenix

Like many words in the English language, “Phoenix” comes from Greek.  However, the Persians, the Egyptians, the Chinese, the Hebrews and the Romans all had a mythology of the Phoenix – a fabled bird that burns to ashes, but out of the ashes an egg is brought forth, from which a new Phoenix is born.

In both the 1965 film and the 2004 remake, The Flight of the Phoenix, a group of oil drillers crash land in the desert and wait, with dwindling supplies, to be rescued.  One survivor, an aeronautical engineer, proposes that they build a plane out of the spare parts left from the crash and fly out of the desert, which most of them agree is preposterous.

But often, passively waiting to be rescued is the more foolish strategy.  We should take stock of what we have, even if it is in disarray – namely our values and what we can do with them – rather than continually rehearsing the odds against us.  Realizing we’ll never feel our way into acting, we must instead act our way into feeling and move forward to rebuild.

That is the only way we will ever gain the altitude we need to fly beyond where we are.