Rolodex Brain

The older we get, the more memories we accumulate. Ok, I know – this isn’t a particularly innovative insight, but hear me out because it’s one thing to know that this is true. But living it? That’s a real and abidingly complex experience of life.
When we can’t precisely place a name or face, it’s not the beginning of the end. It’s not dementia or Alzheimer’s. Instead, it’s a full Rolodex brain (I know, the reference is, at this stage, archaic), bursting with information: names, numbers, pictures, business cards, and, generally, obscure references.
To further complicate things, there’s not a very good filtering process for this data. Rolodex brain just sits there with names of the long-deceased, businesses that have been closed for decades, authors I want to read, musicians whose music I want to hear… along with an unbelievable collection of trivia.
The other day at a beautiful temple wedding, a couple approached me. They were, like me, in that late 60s range. “Remember us?” they said. I looked at them and smiled with, I’m sure, deer-in-the-headlights eyes. The Rolodex brain got into gear, rifling through the cards as fast as I could. Like the classic rotary file, the one with the big black knobs you use to flip through contacts, I was spinning as fast as I could.
I was about to concede when, for obscure reasons, my Rolodex brain stopped at the first letter of their last name. I couldn’t get any further. I apologized. But they gave me an A for effort. It had been more than 20 years since they had been temple members. They were still in the Rolodex brain.
The TBA Rolodex brain collection is 25 years old. It’s filled with names, many of which are surrounded by an event, a conversation, a ritual, laughter, tears, travel, and more. Reviewing the myriad contact points and people with whom I’ve communed over the years is sobering and inspiring.
And it’s joyful, too. That wedding I mentioned, the one where I desperately sought to recall a distant thread of connection, was extraordinary for many reasons. Most meaningful, when it comes to discussing names and memory, was the bride. The bride: a sweet young woman with whom I sang Bim Bom Shabbat Shalom 23 years ago – or was it 24? – sitting on the bimah steps with her Super Star poster in her hands.
There we were, on the same bimah, only she was holding a bouquet, not a poster. For a moment, time collapsed. There was a remarkable merging of past, present, and future into a sacred space of connection. There was no need to sort through any cards. We were connected, even to the bimah. I felt so lucky to be present, to be alive.
I am blessed to carry around this Rolodex brain, filled with so much that is deep and soulful. It’s an honor to have so much to remember, so many cards, from a letter in the alphabet to Bim Bom to the smile of a bride. It’s all there, all in the cards of my Rolodex brain.

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