It’s Totally Okay to Forget Things

Today, I started my morning looking at squirrels.

Ah, yes. It is that time of year when the squirrels make themselves look busy and bury everything they can’t stuff into their little troublesome cheeks into the ground. I watched a particularly robust squirrel take a few bites out of each piece of food he found. Then, like a person out to dinner asking for a doggy bag, he hopped a few feet and immediately buried the morsel. He did this time and time again, digging his small hole, dropping it in. And leaving it.

And that’s the kicker, he just leaves it. I mean, will he ever come back? Will he ever return to his literal root cellar with all of his winter wares inside?

The fact is no. Just no. He isn’t guaranteed to come back. And even if he draws himself a little map, on a little leaf, of all the places he buried his treasures, he still won’t come back. Because by then, he’s forgotten how many holes he has buried. Or what he even buried. Or why he buried those snacks in the first place. Because he’s only a squirrel, and he can’t be expected to remember all of these things. (And neither should you be expected to remember everything, either. But we’re getting to that.)

So, what happens? Does he emotionally berate himself like humans do? Will the squirrel call himself stupid and hit his head against an oak tree until he remembers where his food went? No. He leaves that seed in the ground. And it eventually grows into an oak tree itself. Out of his mistake, something else grows, something else is given a chance to flourish. If he didn’t forget, if he had simply eaten it (like he seems to have eaten everything else in the yard), we wouldn’t have all of the beautiful trees that were planted by accident. He may see it as forgetfulness, but really it is forgiveness, which is always a gift you do not know you can give until you do.

And so, when I watched this little squirrel busily bury his food, but also his memories in a way, I realized that we were very much alike. Or perhaps, I realized that humans needed to be more like squirrels. That is, we need to allow ourselves to forget.

Because we’ve become so consumed with documenting our entire lives. Taking pictures of ourselves, our meals, our surroundings. And of course, sharing them with others, so their memories become our memories. This behavior has become so instinctual that we would put ourselves in danger just to get that perfect picture.

Tonight, I’m here to say that it is okay to forget. More than that, it is okay to not document everything around you. It’s okay to let things wash over you. It’s okay to let things leave. It is okay to forget! Your perception of things is warped anyway. You will never remember things as they truly are. And no picture taken on your phone can help you with that.

In general, I think we’re all spending a lot more time dwelling on things when we should be burying our nuts and forgetting them. Letting them grow into tall trees to shade us or letting them stay buried under a frozen ground. The choice has been, and always will be, yours. However you choose to forget what you must is your own: will you fortify yourself with old pain and memories, or will they become your past?

In the end, we need to remember, ironically, that forgetting is good.

And you need to be able to forgive yourself for forgetting, too. Now, I don’t mean telling yourself it is okay when you forget to pick your child up from school. Yeah, that’s not good.

But if you forget something occasionally, please let yourself off the hook. We are human, after all. Which, I know what you are thinking: humans are smarter than squirrels, we have bigger brains, so we should be able to remember. And maybe that’s true. But maybe something in us wants to forget. Maybe something in us is hardwired to glitch. Maybe something in us wants that oak tree to grow instead.

So, soak in the memories, but also let them flow back out, having been filtered through you. We’re only here for a limited amount of time, and you can’t take any of it with you. All you can do is what the squirrel does: take a few bites, bury it, and move forward.