Living Columns & Blogs

Selective memory weeds out unpleasant ones


The world of sports is a learning laboratory for fans.

For example, I never knew someone could deliberately replace memory until I read in the N&O that UNC football coach Larry Fedora doesn’t remember his team’s 70-41 loss to East Carolina University on Sept. 20, 2014.

“I don’ t remember a thing about it,” he reportedly told local radio host David Glenn.

Coach Fedora’s Tar Heels suffered a similar nightmare only a couple of weeks ago when they again lost to ECU by another lopsided score.

I wonder if Coach will be able also to shove that loss down memory lane and leave it there. If that’s the case, Coach has a remarkable and convenient memory.

Our memory is a storehouse of trivia, as well as significant events in our lives. We have little control over it. I know that at times when my mind seems headed toward a former traumatic event I’d rather not revisit, I tell it not to go there: “Don’t open that door!”

Sometimes it obeys. More often, it doesn’t and I momentarily relive the event.

I cite a recent example.

Not long ago, I was scheduled to speak briefly at the going-away event for Ann Berry, a longtime friend and associate at The Raleigh Times. During the night preceding the event, I awoke twice, recalling a traumatic event that occurred way back in second grade at Boonville High School in the foothills.

At a particular school assembly, the school’s second grade staged the classic story of “Peter Rabbit” before the entire student body. I had been cast in the title role.

Shy by nature, I was totally intimidated.

The crisis occurred as I was fleeing from the angry Mr. McGregor and had to crawl through a barrel that blocked my escape route. Unfortunately, a large nail on the edge of the barrel caught the edge of my costume, a pair of long-handle underwear.

My desperate efforts to free myself were to no avail. The barrel and I began rolling around on the stage as the audience roared with laughter.

Finally, someone had the good sense to lower the curtain as my older sister rushed from the audience to release me. I was a basket case.

I overcame the event to some extent, and consequently became perhaps an adequate speaker but never came close to eloquence behind a lectern. I never keep a speaking engagement without my mind first traveling back to that second-grade experience.

Although my wife has taught public speaking for years, none of her skills have rubbed off on me.

Some years ago, I addressed a gathering at N.C. State University’s Erdahl Cloyd Union. I was doing a pretty good job until I spied in the audience a fellow with closed eyes and a torso leaning precariously toward the floor.

I lost my train of thought for a few seconds before Rip Van Winkle crashed to the floor and had to be helped back into his chair. Not even the most eloquent speakers can survive that kind of performance review unscathed.

A couple I know has an ongoing issue over his forgetting to drape the bath mat over the side of the tub after showering.

“You can remember the score of every Carolina basketball game for the last 20 years, but you can’t remember to hang up a wet bath mat!“ the wife scolds.

Washington is undoubtedly the worst place in the country for loss of memory. During the recent and seemingly unceasing investigations of political wrong-doing by political figures, have you not noticed the number of pols being questioned who answer questions with “I don’t remember,” or “I can’t recall” ?

It must be something in the D.C. water.

“I can’ t recall” is often an effective camouflage for a lie. Who can prove that you’re lying when you hide behind “I can’t remember”?

A few things are so ingrained in our memories that we never forget them, although they occurred in the long ago. These include birthday, social security number, home telephone or cell phone numbers and, if married, the anniversary date of the wedding. Very few husbands forget the latter more than once.

Memory is precious. Treasure it.