by David Sisler
Rajan Srinivasan Mahadevan can recite the value of pi to 31,811 digits without a single error. The feat takes him almost four hours. That accomplishment once earned him a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world's greatest memorist. Today, it's only good enough for second place.
From Bangalore, India, Mr. Mahadevan was once the subject of a study by the National Institute of Mental Health. Researchers were searching for clues to his amazing ability.
Mr. Mahadevan's speciality is with numbers. Recalling faces is more difficult for him than for the person with an average memory. Like most of us, he sometimes forgets where he places his keys.
Poet John Milton could recite astounding quantities of poetry.
Conductor Arturo Toscanini had memorized all the words and music for hundreds of operatic and symphonic works. At age 19 he was the substitute conductor in a performance of Verdi's "Aida." He did the entire performance from memory.
Writing in the Washington Post, T. R. Reid reports that minutes before a concert in St. Louis, Toscanini was informed by the second bassoon player that the lowest key on his instrument had just broken. For a few minutes Toscanini stood in total silence and then told the bassoonist not to worry: "There is no G-flat for second bassoon in any of the pieces on tonight's program."
The Russian Shereshevskii possessed a powerful memory for dialogue. He could recall verbatim virtually every conversation he ever had.
On the flip side of the coin is Larry Krusinski. Larry suffered from amnesia--the aftermath of head injuries received in a near-fatal auto accident.
His past was not completely blanked out. He remembered his family. He recalled certain childhood memories. He recognized college friends. He remembered his first date with Janet, but he did not remember marrying her or the three years that they were husband and wife.
Janet said, "He was real honest. He didn't remember me. But he really seemed to like me. He trusted me right away."
Then one special day, after she had told her husband she loved him--just like she had done over and over since the accident--he repeated the words to her.
Janet said, "I think he fell in love with me all over again. He does not remember that he ever loved me before."
One of the main characters in Andrew Lloyd Weber's "Cats" is Grizabella, the Glamour Cat. Grizabella is at once hated and feared by the other Jellicle Cats. She is forced into a life of loneliness. And yet it is Grizabella who alone is chosen by Old Deuteronomy to go to the Heavy Side Layer and be reborn.
Moments before that climatic event, Grizabella sings the show stopper: "Memory, turn your face to the moon light. Let your memory lead you. Open up, enter in. If you find there the meaning of what happiness is, then a new life will begin."
Mrs. Krusinski said, "Larry didn't remember that he ever loved me before."
Do you suppose they had any problems in their three-year marriage? Most couples do. Do you suppose they ever said things to each other that they immediately regretted? Most couples do. Few of us would like totally to forget the past, but wouldn't it be great to forget the times we over-reacted, the times we spoke in anger--just forget them as though they never happened?
The memory feats of Mahadevan, Milton, Toscanini and Shereshevskii; the amnesia of Larry Krusinski; the memories that forced Grizabella into endless masquerading; all pale in light of the greatest memory feat of all time. It is not the feat of remembering. It is one of forgetting!
On behalf of the person who places personal faith in Jesus of Nazareth, God promises total amnesia, total forgetfulness. Through Jeremiah, he pledged, "I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more."
Published in the Augusta Chronicle 7/15/95
Copyright 1995 by David Sisler
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