Remember to Forget

September is World Alzheimer’s Awareness Month. It’s also the month that We Remember the events of 9/11.

For those of us old enough to have experienced the events of that morning, we still remember where we were, the frantic calls we made, and the terror as we watched, helpless. We all have a unique story from that morning, but for a brief period of time, Americans were connected by the horrific events of watching the Twin Towers crumble and planes crashing. We shared days and weeks of uncertainty and fear, not knowing if this was the beginning or the end.  We were kinder and more forgiving of one another in the first hours, giving way to collective anger and need for retribution as we entered a war. We began to unravel in the subsequent years, pointing fingers and laying blame. Today we are divided about events, how they happened, and how we should have responded. The aftermath in America still rages around us as we continue the “War on Terror” and fight for health benefits for first responders.

Like Alzheimer’s destroying parts of the brain, the farther we get from 9/11, the memories of that moment in time when Americans felt united, connected to people simply through nationality, begin to disappear. The people who experienced 9/11 first-hand will slowly give way to new generations, and 9/11 will become merely a fact of historical importance.

Today, as We Remember 9/11 and try to rekindle that feeling of connection to one another that was so strong that morning, we are faced with the reality of faded memories and the blur of larger context.  We start to realize that, as a nation, we are already forgetting.

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Don’t should on yourself.

Free image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I really should have done my laundry yesterday, but I didn’t. I also should have gotten my MBA, eaten healthier in the last few weeks, and put the kiddie pool away before it left a big, brown circle on my lawn.

I should have done a lot of things in the past 20+ years, but I didn’t. I also have a lot of regrets and guilt, the results of a lifetime of “should haves”.

What is it with this word “should” that makes us all so miserable?

If the word “should” did not exist, I would have a lifetime of things that I did and did not do. And things I wouldn’t and couldn’t have done. What’s the difference? The word “should” implies that I have all the wisdom of today when I made the decision. It also implies that an alternate decision was better.

Let’s take the fact that I did not get my MBA. I did not get my MBA directly after my undergraduate degree, when I feel I “should” have done it. Instead, I got a job where I met most of the friends I still have today. I met my future husband, who has given me two unbelievable, if not high-spirited, children. I also had some incredible experiences that are now my favorite memories. So, really, it’s not that I should have gotten my MBA. I didn’t. Why would I wish for something different now? If I want my MBA, I can still get it.

What about the bigger “should haves”?  I should have spent more time with my dad before he got sick. The fact is, I didn’t spend more time with my dad because I was an adolescent that wouldn’t have been able to appreciate the stories and wisdom that I might have gained had I spent the time. I wasn’t ready, and that’s OK.

We are a product of the people, opportunities and decisions of our past.  They leave small imprints of expectation, and we call on them to help guide us through today and into tomorrow. From an outside, unbiased perspective, this would seem like a good thing. But we humans, unfortunately, are wired to internalize, rate, and shame ourselves into believing that we should have done things better.

Don’t wait for a life-altering event to make peace with your past.

Don’t should on yourself.

Note: The phrase “Don’t should on yourself” was told to me by a very wise woman, who attributed it to another. I only wish I could be so smart to think of it myself.

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