In olden times, when I was young and Apatosaurs snacked on the treetops, I knew stuff. I’ve forgotten more since then than most sentient beings learn in a lifetime, although in fairness to them and to my own addled and limited brain capacity, much of that was only memorized and not really understood or applied. And what little I have learned or known has mostly long since been reduced to dribbles and scribbles and other forms of rubble.
I once knew how to ice skate and roller skate. Not particularly well, mind, but I could stay upright and toddle around a rink or lake without breaking ice or ankles, which for a person of limited grace and less skill is good enough. I could ride a bike, row a boat and climb a tree. I read books intended to make me smarter and ones intended only to amuse me, and a fair bunch that had the possibility of doing both simultaneously. I sang in every section of a choir that would let me in, played the piano poorly but enthusiastically, and learned about four chords on the guitar from Dad.
Much of this is gone, forgotten or so rusty that it would be somewhere between horrifying and laughable, or possibly both, if I were to try my hand at any of it now. And I’m not proud of that. But I’m not too worried about it, either, nor am I ashamed. I’m probably not all that different from most people when it comes to such things. I wouldn’t mind, though, if the opportunity arose to revisit any of those things and I discovered that (a) it’s true what they say about bike riding coming right back as though I’d never left off the practice, and (b) everything else I’d ever once loved doing would come back as easily as zipping around on a long-neglected bike. Before all the rest of me freezes over, as it were.
I also used to know how to leave the house without much thought of what lay outside its doors or worry over what I was to avoid and/or accomplish before returning to its safety. I had a firm grasp of many, many things that didn’t matter in the slightest in keeping the earth rotating properly or making my part of consumerism fully sustainable, let alone in achieving and maintaining world peace. As a supposed grownup, I learned to worry and fuss a great deal over that sort of stuff, even (or especially) when I knew full well I hadn’t any hope of challenging my born impotence in these matters.
But one thing I have learned as an adult that is remarkably useful–assuming I can keep it in mind, an increasingly slippery endeavor as I age–is that no individual human ever did really have any control over anything of this great importance. Occasionally, one of our kind manages to break through the barriers or even simply to fall into a solution by being in the right-or-wrong place at the right-or-wrong moment, but most of us are not able, alone, to learn or do anything much more complicated and meaningful than reading or singing or ice skating. And most wonderful of all, I’ve learned that that’s okay. It’s important to care, and to do and be the best that I can, but it may be equally needful that I grow wise enough to stop banging my head against any brick wall that practice has taught me will never actually budge and, yes, be content that I made the effort, not carry around pointless guilt that I’m not killing myself with further useless striving and angst.
As much as I loved ice skating when I was young and owned skates, and lived near a park where I could use them in winter, I don’t feel terribly cheated that decades later I’m fairly certain I couldn’t even remember how to skate. I’m happy to hang up those old blades and let someone newer and nimbler learn how to ice skate, and finally to get old enough to forget it too, in turn. The world itself will probably continue turning, with or without us.