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Digital age problems: A meeting I can't remember, a 'Kathleen' I can't recall

This is a true story. Happening right now. High technology of the 21st century.

My iPhone calendar says I had an appointment, at 4 p.m. today, with Kathleen.

I must have put it in there. I'm sure I did. Yet I have no clue, zero, who this Kathleen might be, or what this is about.

Seriously. I have thought about it so much that my head hurts. I have thought about it so much I feel like Dory, the fish with similar troubles in the movie.

I glanced at Kathleen's name in my calendar early in the week, and I thought: By Thursday, for sure, I'll remember.

I don't.

For self-preservation, for years, I have used electronic calendars. I did for a long time with my little flip phone. I continued, in a more elaborate way, once I got my iPhone.

I am scattered, to put it kindly - as my wife knows all too well. These calendars have saved me countless times from totally forgetting meetings and interviews and doctor’s appointments and even calling hours that I was sure I could never possibly forget, the kind of events I used to miss all too often in the old days, when I’d write down appointments on any available sheet of paper – candy wrappers, receipts, napkins - and then lose them at different points around the house.

Sometimes I'd find them, months later, with old socks beneath the dresser.

Mobile phones, with their built-in calendars, have been a Godsend.

But sometimes even technology can’t protect me.

Sometimes, it only screws me up a little more.

Life goes too fast. I fail to focus. I punch buttons and keep moving.

As in today:

Who is Kathleen?

Is she sitting somewhere, right now, drumming her fingers and cursing my name above a cup of cold coffee?

There are several possibilities about what’s happening. This could be a matter of spell check. I might not have written ‘Kathleen’ at all. I might have punched in some totally different name with vaguely similar letters and my iPhone said politely: Let me fix that for you.

Leaving me with an appointment with someone who does not exist.

Or: It may be that Kathleen is someone I truly should meet today, that I really have an appointment, maybe about something important. Like our money. Or something medical. Or painting the house. And it may be that I proudly set the meeting up far in advance …

And then forgot.

Or: It may be that Kathleen is Kathleen Snavely, the Kathleen I knew best. She was an immigrant, the longest-lived person ever born in Ireland - think of that - until her death last year at 113, a wonderful person whom I interviewed several times during her long retirement in Upstate New York. It is possible, long ago, that I accidentally plugged an appointment with her into completely the wrong year, an appointment that outlived even the amazing Kathleen.

God knows.

I certainly don’t.

The only consolation I can take is this:

Please. Tell me somehow, in some way, the same thing has happened to you.

Do you ever find yourself with similar memory voids in the digital age? If so, I'd love to hear those stories. You can leave them here as comments, or email me at

As for the identity of the mysterious Kathleen, that came to me in a rush later that day. In the afternoon, I attended a wake for Marian Crinnin, a woman I'd never met but whose passing felt like the loss of an old friend. She was a reader in Syracuse who had corresponded with me for more than 20 years. She died only a few days away from turning 92. Raised amid the Great Depression, she had the magnificent, distinctive handwriting of her generation. She was gracious, funny and compassionate - attributes made clear by the long line at her calling hours, which snaked back and forth at the Carter Funeral Home.

Marian Crinnin (family photo)

Marian Crinnin (family photo)

I was standing there, waiting, when I suddenly had that kind of mental explosion that's so sweet it's almost impossible to explain, the feeling when you abruptly find a word or a name that you'd been trying to drum up, but always seemed - in an aching way - just out of reach: I knew why I'd written down Kathleen! Marian's coffin was surrounded by her eight children and a legion of grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Among her grown children: Her daughter Kathleen, with whom I'd also corresponded from time to time.

Of course: When I saw Marian's obituary a few days ago, I knew I had to be there for the calling hours - but through some trick of the mind, I accidentally entered the name of her daughter in my calendar! I showed up at the wake near the end, close to 7 p.m., and did not associate it with that earlier entry on my iPhone.

Marian Crininn (foreground) with her daughter Kathleen .... the mysterious subject in my calendar. (Family photo)

Marian Crininn (foreground) with her daughter Kathleen .... the once mysterious subject in my calendar. (Family photo)

So that was the story, and the best part is this: It allows me to offer this farewell to Marian Crinnin, longtime volunteer at a food pantry and at Meals on Wheels, a terrific human being and one devoted and thoughtful reader .... the kind of Upstate life that deserves a tribute, which I'm very happy to write.

And it only happened, at least this time, because I forgot Kathleen. (You'll find a reflection from the real Kathleen, by the way, in the comments below.)

-- Sean Kirst is a contributing columnist for The Buffalo News


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