My fears lurk all over my mind, hiding behind the bigger neurons of my brain, sometimes under tiny veins, near the cortex… watching me, taunting me, terrifying me. I try to keep them in check by reading. This evening I picked up a dusty volume of poetry that promised to keep the ghosts of my fears at bay. I chanced upon John Keats (1795-1821) and his poem When I have fears that I may cease to be. Horrors, I said to myself, this man, this boy, who wrote the poem when he was around 22 only, also had fears. He must have had many, because he committed suicide at age 25, if I am not mistaken.
John Keats had fears that he would die before he had a chance to say and write all that was in his “teeming brain.” I have no such fears because I have little to say and my mind is only teeming with dreads. It is not teeming with great ideas.
My mind is teeming with the fear that my brain may cease to be, to work properly, to function smoothly. I dread the lurking possibility that my memory may leave me, forsake and quit me altogether. I decided to give the matter some thought.
I remember I had problems at midterms and finals. I was in my late teens and early twenties and I had problems recalling dates, names, theories, even though I had studied hard, or so I thought, and I got a poor grade because of that. It happened to all my schoolmates. But we did not worry we were losing our memory. Those things happened.
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The other day I was to meet a younger friend -mid-thirties- at a sidewalk café. I waited for over three quarters of an hour… He did not show up. He had plain forgotten about me. It just slipped his mind. Not for a moment did he think he was getting Alzheimer’s disease.
A student of mine keeps telling me she has no memory. She forgets things, she says. She is about 38, I believe. But she is not worried her mind might be shutting down. She just forgets. She sees it as a natural thing.
When do we start fearing that our brain may cease to be? After fifty, for sure. Before that we chuck our slips of memory, or forgetfulness, up to goodness-know-what. But when we turn fifty we start worrying. I did. I was, and I am, hearing so much about the Dreadful Disease, that I think I may be getting it too. But these fears are harmless and they are common.
It is normal to forget unpleasant things at any age. Even children forget to do their homework and must be reminded constantly. Sometimes we get notice that a bill is overdue. We “forgot” to pay it. We stress the dreadful fact that we forget, and do not emphasize how many things we remember in our lives: we remember everything, even what we would like to forget.
I have, then, decided to be positive, shake off my fears about forgetfulness, “forget” my dreads and carry on with my life. Too bad if I forget something, whatever it may be. I know I am not alone. At the same time I have taken up the study of the Basque language, which is completely different from any tongue I know, in order to exercise my memory and my mind. And from now on I will practice mindfulness, not forgetfulness.
To live in fear, any fear, is to create hell in one’s life, in one’s brain. Forget it!