The last time I rode a bicycle must have been around 2001. Maybe I rode one other time since then. Even so, I am confident I can climb on a bike today and travel happily (at least if the road is relatively flat), dodging cars and gravel like I ride a bike all the time. Balance? No problem. I can do it in my sleep.
I can’t remember when I last baked a loaf of bread, though I used to do it frequently. My arms, hands, and shoulders remember the rhythm of kneading. My body remembers the rocking and leaning in, stretching the dough, to maximize the gluten and incorporate all the flour. Indisputably, my fingers remember the feel of the surface of a finished dough ball ready for rising, perfectly smooth, and silken to the touch. When I touch it and press gently, a proper dough has some elasticity, a give, and the dimple disappears as the dough recovers. My fingertips remember that sensation still, though lacking dough beneath them. I’m certain I could make a flawless loaf by feel today despite the years gone by.
What is one millimeter? I can sense that without a pause too, though I grew up with inches. It’s the small white crescent of a fingernail growing in after being clipped. I can see that clearly in my mind’s eye.
Few women can tie a men’s necktie with a four-in-hand knot. I can. I learned that as a Brownie Scout in order to tie our little orange ties properly.
What about colors? Do they befuddle you? Say, what’s the difference between turquoise, aqua, and teal? Discerning colors. That’s one of my superpowers. Comes in handy when painting watercolors, selecting bridesmaid dresses, quilting, or ordering from a catalogue.
Many of our skills don’t come into use often. Some we forget from disuse. I once knew and understood the relationships between cosine, sine, and tangent; the Latin names of many bacteria; how to gap spark plugs; and making a sheepshank knot. The important and the trite. Phone numbers, once religiously remembered, are now available at the click of a contact button on the phone—though I don’t think it is so great that I cannot memorize my children’s numbers. (I remember my best friend from 3rd grade’s number, however.)
Use it or lose it? Not always. It’s amazing what the body knows and retains. More amazing is the variety of things available to remember. It’s what we choose to focus on. I choose to focus on the pleasant, the feel of the wind across my body as I ride downhill, and the scent of fresh, yeasty dough that is pliable under my fingertips.