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Lost and Found

Lost

Lately, I’ve been misplacing nouns like the proverbial set of keys. Names, places, objects that were once familiar temporarily fall between the couch cushions of life.

“It’s natural,” my well-intended friends and relatives tell me, “You’re just getting…older.”

Maybe, I think. My mind shifts to my mother.

“You’re at no higher risk than the general population,” my doctor said without looking up from my genetic test report.

That result felt good at the time, but as my instances of “forgetfulness” increase, it provides little comfort.

The good news is that I eventually remember the who, where or what.

Trick one is the most basic of mnemonics. I simply repeat “aaa, bbb, ccc, ddd,” and so on until something feels right. There’s an inaudible click. That click may not be the word, but at least I realize I’m in the vicinity.

I know, it’s extremely scientific, right?

OK, OK, but did you know that mnemonic is derived from Greek mnēmōn (“mindful”), which itself comes from the Greek word meaning “to remember”? (In classical mythology, Mnemosyne, the mother of the Muses, is the goddess of memory.)

OK, where was I? Oh, yeah…

Trick two is simply to ignore the momentary memory lapse, knowing that the word will suddenly appear. It may be minutes, hours, or even days later, but the word will come to me.

Example: Just the other morning, I was out having breakfast with my friend Karen. We were talking about how travel is changing given the Coronavirus, and as an example, she was relating a story about how her son changed his travel plans to . . .   She paused.

“You know,” she said somewhat embarrassed, “It’s a Canadian city. West coast. Near an island.”

Two immediate thoughts:

  1. Smugly: “Thank God, I’m not the only older person forgetting things.”
  2. Exasperated: I couldn’t remember the name of the city either.

“Happens to me all the time, Karen” I said waving a comforting hand in the air. “It will come to us.”

“Anyway,” she continued….

As she talked, I went inward and watched my cranial minions start rummaging about in dusty mental filing cabinets, muttering “aaa, bbb, ccc….” Eventually…

“Here it is, boss” one of them yelled, holding up a yellowed piece of paper.

“Vancouver,” I blurted out over Karen’s monologue.

“Yes, Vancouver! Ugh. Don’t you hate that?” she moaned.

_____________________

I have come to accept that these lapses concern me for three reasons.

Solitary confinement 1 – My mother passed away from Alzheimer’s – a ten-year spiral into silence. First, forgetting nouns. Then, the immediate present. Then, the past. Then us. At the end, there appeared to be little behind her dark eyes. A prisoner in a cell without windows or doors.

Nature’s drive-by shooting in Super. Slow. Motion.

Solitary confinement 2 – Words are not just keys to expression; they’re doors to relationships and purpose. I worry that if my lapses increase, I will become less reliable, less useful. I imagine myself – even grayer and more creased than I am now – sitting at a kitchen table alone, reading the news on a very old smartphone. With a cracked screen. Or watching an endless stream of game shows on television. I see my father wasting away after little but a life of work. No friends or associates.

But not to worry; life is not all dark. There is the occasional lunch at the Big Boy diner to look forward to.

Solitary confinement 3 – This is perhaps the harshest outcome. But it’s the one I’m most curious about because it is not so much about the fear of forgetting as it is the fear of being forgotten.

There is a point in life when we all turn and look back over one shoulder and ask “What did I do that’s memorable? Whose life did I touch in a meaningful way? What did I accomplish that had any impact?”

We are all human asteroids hurtling through history, leaving craters large and small. I am but a collection of little impacts, I conclude without judgment.

“Don’t bury me,” I instructed my wife when we were completing our wills. Yes, I have severe claustrophobia — “You do realize you’ll be dead,” my brother later offered sarcastically — but that’s not the reason for not wanting to reside six feet under.

“I don’t want to be alone for eternity. I don’t want to be in a place that gradually no one visits,” I whined. I don’t want to just be a name and dates carved into stone that eventually gives way to time and seasons. An out-of-date history book shelved in the upper stacks. Or worse, left out on the remainder pile.

Found

“Cremate me, and float me down a trout stream,” I instruct.

Let me dissolve into the waters where I can reside with the larvae and the rocks and the fish. I will become one with the water and its forest partner, I think.

People will visit me. They will wade in to cool themselves and reflect on the sounds of the water and the forest.

I will still have purpose.


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Jeff Ikler
Jeff Iklerhttps://www.queticocoaching.com/
The river that runs through my career lives – as teacher, publisher, coach, podcaster and author – is helping individuals acquire knowledge, skills, and self-awareness so they can better achieve their desired results and impact. • As Director of Quetico Leadership and Career Coaching, I work with individuals and leaders to overcome obstacles and make sustained changes in their behavior. • I co-host the podcast “Getting Unstuck – Shift for Impact,” where I bring to light inspirational stories of transformation in the field of education. • I am the co-author of the soon-to-be-published book for school educators, Shifting: How Educational Leaders Can Create a Culture of Change.

16 CONVERSATIONS

  1. Wonderful story about the inevitable completion of life’s journey and the uneasy contemplation of what the last leg of that journey will look like. Every word, every phrase, every analogy is perfect.

    I’m with you on the cremation, no burial idea. I don’t want to be in the ground either. I’m not an outdoorsy gal. Tuck my ashes away in a stylish contemporary vessel inside a drawer in a nice climate controlled environment. Makes me think of a filing cabinet and that feels comfortable to me. After all, I was an accountant for 30 years.

    • Tammy — thanks so much for reading and commenting. Funny how so many of us don’t want the traditional end-of-life burial. We live in Queens New York, and there are massive cemeteries around us. I mean massive. There have to be so many graves there that no one visits anymore, and that makes me feel sad. Too bad that the land couldn’t just be a park that people would love to visit.

  2. Jeff, this piece is phenomenal and packs a punch. Thank you for sharing it. When I read solitary confinement 3, it reminded me of my husband. When he was diagnosed with Cancer a few years back, we talked about his last wishes. Fortunately, he won the battle. However, like you, cremation is his choice when the final day arrives. With a warped sense of humor, he jokes that I should have a party and then flush him down the toilet. But a rugby pitch would be his preference.
    Thanks for talking about this topic, Jeff. I suspect many of us reading your story can relate.

    • Laura — Let’s work on the rugby pitch! Thanks so much for reading the piece and sharing your personal story. That’s really been the “reward” in writing this one to learn that some of what I wrote is a very common theme. Hope you are safe and secure during this time.

        • Yes, my wife and I are sheltered in place as they say. All of her business travel has been curtailed, and I sadly backed out of a great little conference (Sarah Elkin’s NLV) last week. Too risky. We are now working in our respective offices for the foreseeable future. The upside? I get to spend more time with my wife!

          • Sounds lovely, Jeff. Unfortunately, I’m commuting to work each day. It’s a ghost town, and our doors are even locked 24/7 because there are so few of us in the building. I stay in my office as much as I can. My husband is going into work also. But he manages raw materials QC for a biopharmaceutical company and has to be there. On an interesting note, the company he works for was chosen by a private company to assist in developing a medication to help reduce inflammation in the lungs of people who have already contracted the Coronavirus illness. Here’s to a successful trial that could potentially help many people!

  3. Wow, Jeff. Profound, moving, and so real. Makes me remember the eloquent, incredibly intelligent history prof who I loved in my college days (I took a couple of his classes) and then later how he entered every one of those stages of “solitary confinement” that you describe. I recall experiencing this existential Woh. Pause. We can really get attached to our self-importance, when in the end we all become “Dust in the Wind.” (Kansas) or as you described-part of the creek of flowing water…still with purpose. Wow. I too want to be cremated. I would love my ashes thrown around a mountain side like a cloud of swirling, imaginary, dancing Julie Andrews’ molecules singing “The Hills are Alive with the Sound of Music…” Thank you for sharing this very vulnerable (gave me pause) essay.

    • I wonder if there is a correction of “We can really get attached to our self-importance” to our level of self-confidence? High self-confidence, maybe we don’t think of it much. Maybe low self-confidence and it raises its head?

      Love your image of having your ashes scattered around a mountain ala The Sound of Music. Beautiful. Thanks for your read and reflection.

  4. Thank you, Jeff, for this poignant article. I always joke that Sixty is the new Forty except when I forget, my feet hurt, I am fatigued. My dad had Alzheimer’s, and my father-in-law now has it. I agree with you. If possible and I have already planned to leave my body to my alma mater (that may change to a local medical school), where young medical students can acquire knowledge by working on my obsolete body. Why not? I happen to believe there is someplace else when we leave our earthly domain, but even if one does not, we should have the choice to determine where our final physical destination should be. I much appreciate your thoughts.💖

    • Could not agree with you more, Darlene: “We should have the choice to determine where our final physical destination should be.” Your intent to give your body to a local medical school is admirable. Thank you for your read and reflection.

  5. Oh Jeff, I am sitting on my couch in the dark at 5:45 am with tears rolling down my face. I wish I could take a picture of my feelings and send it to you, so you’d know the profound impact this piece has had on me. Firstly, this has to possibly be the best analogy I’ve ever read: “Names, places, objects that were once familiar temporarily fall between the couch cushions of life.” Reading about your mom broke my heart and hearing about your fears of being forgotten… I lost my dad recently and that was so much on his mind. He so desperately wanted to make an impact and know that he mattered. I’m with you on the not wanting to be buried-thing! Except I’m going to be spread in some exotic warm local. I’ve always been solar-powered, so the idea of living out eternity in the cold is not for me. It makes me smile to think of us becoming one with the earth, friend. Our energy feeding the soul of nature. You are a gift.

    • So beautifully said: “It makes me smile to think of us becoming one with the earth, friend. Our energy feeding the soul of nature.”

      We Jews have a tradition of leaving a stone on a headstone when we visit a loved-ones grave. There are many interpretations as to why, but the one that impacts me the most is by placing the stone, we show that we have been there, and that the individual’s memory continues to live on in and through us. My dad is buried in Illinois, so it’s rare that I get to see him. When I did a couple of years ago, there were not stones. No visitors. That made me incredibly sad that he was there alone. Yes, I think of him often, but away from that sterile context. We cremated my mom based on her wishes, and she has a grand view of mountains, one that she always treasured. That makes me happy that she found ever-lasting comfort.

      Thanks for your read and reflection, Kimberly. We share many thoughts.

  6. Wow, Jeff.

    So many thoughts and emotions come up for me whilst reading your vulnerable post. Reflective, purpose, meaning, connection.

    Your Solitary confinement 3 was also one that sat on my mind a little until I spoke with Roz Savage and Lubna Forzley-Badr in recent months.

    Both women, in their own way, speak about walking the path of a desired obituary and not a path that would lead us to be forgotten.

    Your podcast Getting Unstuck with Kirsten, your new book shift and your whole body of work joining others on their podcasts or other media is already a wonderful body of work and reminder nad that is today.

    You have a gift for writing and I am grateful for you sharing so openly and vulnerably, it invites others to do the same. Another, maybe unknown, impact in response to Your Solitary confinement 3.

DAILY INSPIRATION. DELIVERED.