Unfortunately I’ve reached an age where I’m inclined to forget things. They tell me age isn’t the only contributor to forgetfulness, and I’m glad to know that. Take for example those who’ve been subjected to stress, they find it hard to recall things that need to be remembered. Forgetfulness can be quite irritating, but it’s of greater concern to those of us who realize it’s a problem to be dealt with.
Those who’ve a tendency to forget try to compensate in different ways. Some shrug their shoulders and say “I’m getting old.” They attempt to laugh it off! Others with intense personalities go to great lengths to find ways to recall things. We’ve all heard of people tying a piece of string, or placing a rubber band on their finger to remind them of an important thing to do. The trouble is they forget what the string was there for in the first place! Some prepare check lists for a day’s activities, and mark calendars with important events so they won’t forget important assignments. That certainly helps!
Forgetfulness is not confined to age, stress or health condition. Things are forgotten more often because we get tied up in activities filling our immediate horizon, and important appointments can be forgotten. This is especially so if the appointment isn’t on our ‘top ten’ favourite list; and missing the event is not life or career threatening. So dental check ups take a back seat, because our subconscious remembers the last painful visit and tries to bury that appointment under a list of other things the subconscious finds more tolerable. Pleasant things can also affect our memory. I remember in my courting days forgetting an important business responsibility as my attention was focused on the beautiful young lady I was with at the time. Fortunately my boss forgave me that lapse. He even saw humour in the situation, much to my relief.
Forgetting is not an exclusive Western phenomenon. The great Bengali poet and writer Rabindranath Tagore wrote these words at the beginning of the 20th century. “I’ve spent so much time tuning and retuning my instrument I didn’t get to play my song.”
It would be impossible for those not exposed to Eastern philosophy and practices to understand what Tagore was trying to say without further explanation. Musicians in Asia sit cross legged on the ground with their instruments warming up for a performance long before the recital is due to begin. There are stringed instruments, a harmonium, which is a kind of small organ using hand power for bellows, wind instruments and drums. All these instruments are unique and require skill to play the melodies of the East. The warm up session is an exercise designed to achieve harmony among players. The stringed instruments and drums in particular require constant tightening adjustments to ensure instruments are playing in tune with each other before a recital begins. Warm up sessions can go on for an hour or more until the chief musician is satisfied the group can give of their best to an assembled audience. If the chief musician is not satisfied harmony is being achieved, it is common for him to walk out on the recital to the great disappointment of the crowd.
This was the background to Tagore’s statement he had ‘spent so much time tuning and retuning his instrument he didn’t get to play his song.’ The message Tagore was trying to communicate however went much deeper than a comment on a failed recital. He was referring to life, and our approach to it.
In a philosophical sense, life gives us instruments through which we can sing our song. To put it in terms we understand, we make our contribution to the community and society in general.
Health and the vigour of youth is an instrument we can play in making our life’s contribution. If I had my time over again there are many things I would like to do differently. Much of my youth was spent living it up, and in preparation for outcomes that would benefit me personally. I wanted a high profile career, money, the trappings wealth brings with it, and fame. The vigour of youth was dedicated to those pursuits, while others spent time in more gainful and beneficial pursuits.
Another instrument given us to play is education. We take comfort in noting many uneducated men and women ended their lives as millionaires and became great personalities of our time. Somehow they overcame educational deficiencies and improved themselves as an entrepreneurial spirit drove them on to success. Their unique contributions to society are an inspiration to us today. How much more could they have accomplished if they had the formal educational opportunities we have available to us today? I guess we will never know.
Another instrument we have to play with is money. While the song would have us believe “money is the root of all evil” there is nothing evil about money, or the acquisition of it. It’s the use we make of it, or our motivation in seeking it that carries the potential for evil. If our primary goal in life is to make money principally for selfish purposes, then we can waste our lives tuning that instrument.
Today we occupy our place in the world with instruments in hand. Have we been tuning and retuning our instruments for too long without reaching a point where we can perform with our peers in harmony, receiving accolades that come with a song well sung? Perhaps we can learn from Tagore’s experience.
“© Copyright Ian Grice 2013 All rights reserved”