Learned, Forgotten, and Reminded

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The headline read: “The Importance of Self-Discipline.” For some reason, it really struck me, as I thought, “Do we need an article telling us about the importance of self-discipline?” I didn’t bother reading the article, after all, I’ve heard all this before, right?

Yes, I have. However, I couldn’t stop thinking about self-discipline.

I took the headline into my daily quiet hour and let it roll around in my head. What did it mean? When had I been self-disciplined? When had I failed to discipline myself? Memories flashed into my mind; moments of success, failure, and indifference returned to the present. Things I had read or heard came back to me, in small snippets, as a cascade of writers and speakers encouraged, challenged, and convicted me.

Then it hit me. Sure, I had heard it all before but how was I doing now?

Isn’t that the way it works for us on so many levels? The meaningful concepts we come across along our way meet us where we are. Sometimes they strike us as profound and sometimes they seem incredibly obvious. Sometimes we file them away for future reference and sometimes we shrug. Sometimes we miss them completely as we race toward the finish of the book, course, conversation, or speech. We may feel the burst of motivation, the moment of insight, or the yawn of indifference. Then we move on.

Then the day comes when we see a headline and something strikes us. Returning to a word, a concept, or a thought, we are taken to a moment. Something comes back to us, perhaps the same but somehow different. No longer in the same place we were when we first came across it, that notion now seems a little different. At first glance, it seemed trite, obvious, but, for some reason, it latched-on, refusing to let go. We think, “I know this.” And yet, something about it feels forgotten.

Consider all that one might learn in 40, 60, or 80 years. We’ll read works great and small. We’ll hear stories memorable and forgettable. We’ll learn things meaningful and meaningless. Some things will stick with us but we’ll forget much along the way. Brilliant phrases will come and go. Lightning strike ideas will appear and disappear. The profound will accompany us for awhile and then slide into that pasture we send great notions to graze while we busy ourselves with living. We cover a lot of ground in a lifetime.

If we’re lucky, the notion will return and meet us once again at a time when we can use it. We’ll discover that the learning didn’t disappear, it just went dormant, and we’ll greet that notion like an old friend. Strangely, an old friend who kind of feels like we’re meeting for the first time. The headline about self-discipline felt that way to me. At first glance, her hair and shoes seemed the same to me, but looking more closely, I noticed details I had forgotten. Her eye color became apparent and the fuzzy contours of her image came into focus. In the context of my life at this moment, the concept of self-discipline struck me differently, and, spending a bit more time with her, I found something new. Or, if not fully new, something meaningful.

As my life has gone on, I find myself returning to many things that fascinate, move, or inspire me. Sometimes, those are physical, intellectual, or spiritual places that are known and comfortable. Maybe it’s a song or familiar poem. Perhaps it is one of the books that I read annually as a refresher or because it motivates me. It could be a video, movie, or speech. We all collect these things along the way. Sometimes I return with intention and savor the old and the new of it. I seek what I know it can provide.

And sometimes I stumble upon them, like running into a high school classmate at the mall. There is surprise and maybe some confusion as I search my memory for the right name, the base of connection, or the shared moment. Even the awkward reunions sometimes yield something meaningful. Kind of like a headline about self-discipline. I knew you all along, but perhaps we haven’t seen each other for awhile.

My grandfather used to joke that he had forgotten more than we would ever know. Well, at least, I think he did. I wonder what else might be worth being reminded of today.

  • Rebecca A Seifert

    I needed to read this! Thank you Phil!

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