When I Grow Up

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Did I ever mention that the routine of attending Driving Theory lessons on weekends feels characteristic in this rite of passage into adulthood (to me)? It’s as though being able to drive would earn the license not just to drive on the roads but also to be taken seriously. Amidst the new normal that we shift uneasily to adapt to: the internships, the thinking about your future, university applications, the reshuffling of priorities; it feels as though these 8 months culminate in the “when I grow up” phase that we’ve begun dreaming of ever since we could write that primary school composition titled “My Ambition”. Perhaps, it was even before that – remember the day we had the English lesson titled “My Occupation”? There were colourful picture cards with multiracial hand-drawn adults dressed in their respective uniforms; beneath them their occupation typed in Comic Sans, font size 15 thereabout, black and bold. Today, on the long bus ride that has become a weekly affair, this one’s about the young adult I don’t want to be “when I grow up”.

“Let’s play a game of word association, starting with the word “old” “ – “retirement”, “slow”, “dementia”, “fear”… – I recall this activity vividly from an Interact session back in Junior College, aimed at developing empathy for the elderly whom we served regularly. Then, of the many ideas that arose, I found “dementia” the most terrifying of all – silent, incurable and enduring. In recent days, the recurrence of this issue in the newspapers has found new life for a familiar fear. Forgetting (the essence of dementia) is scary, but so is remembering too much. Drawing parallels between earlier experiences in customer service and new ones from the current internship, I have been especially observant of how we may abuse our ability to remember as we increase in age (and so memories, experiences, perceived knowledge, confirmation bias). One would expect our fear of forgetting and of dementia to have developed conscious appreciation towards remembering (just as how awareness of ‘have-not’s may be reminder to appreciate what we have), but this we forget to do. Ironic.

Don’t get me wrong: Forgetting is still terrifying and dementia, unimaginably awful. That’s a story for another time – for now, I would like to propose that remembering too much can be frightening too.

It seems, the more we remember our life’s experiences, the more we reinforce existing beliefs and the narrower our points of views. Frontline service has always promised me a daily dosage of Ms./Mr. ‘Think-You’re-So-Big’s plagued by their impressive repertoire of life experiences – from which, they have drawn up sufficient patterns, decisive conclusions and firmed up inflexible convictions. Like reflexes, these preconceived ideas as a result of their remembering kick in quickly before they can stop that frustrated sigh or instantaneous eye-roll at service that comes a second too slow for their liking. 14 year old and working at Macdonald’s, I recall my frustration at these adults. It was as if they remembered so much of their efforts put into working hard early in their lives to get to their million-dollar desk jobs today that they forgot in real-time, the crew at Macdonald’s put in continuous effort standing behind the cashier putting their orders together. They remember their stories too well to remember others have their own too.

I used to make frequent promises to myself about how to be “when I grow up” without dedicating myself to actions aligned with these promises because of the false illusion that “when I grow up” happens in a faraway moment, a split second. This year, I am learning this transition of growing up is always, always happening: slowly but surely. Along the way, everything I choose to remember and to forget determine then, how I will be “when I grow up”. We prize remembering things so much because, perhaps, it makes us feel in control of the decisions we make. If that is so and as memory is finite, it would probably be a good idea to start picking and choosing the things to remember. Along with that, it might be a good idea to remember to forget. Forget the people who hurt us and forget the stereotypes. Instead, remember what the little things that bring us happiness were and remember that every person is different. I admire dearly many adults who’ve imparted me their wisdom and who inspired me to be more than the number that is my age. (It is, but a number.) They are the ones I will remember. As for Ms./Mr. ‘Think-You’re-So-Big’s, you’re the ones I will remember to forget.

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