If my mind is anything close to normal it is remarkable that as part of my memory declines, part improves.
I can remember with great detail my bedroom at age six: white walls with taped nautical charts, twin bed covered with a blue blanket, and a view of the telephone pole next door that I could see from my bed. I can also remember my very first school lunch pail: green painted metal with a cool brown thurmos attached inside with a clamp. All this and much much more is returning to me but I can’t seem to remember where I dropped my wallet or put down my eyeglasses or the tickets to the show I had in my hand just five minutes ago.
Why is that? Not “Why” from a neurological or brain function standpoint. I understand a little about flaking brain cells and reluctant and lost neurons. I want to believe that there is a bigger maybe even a cosmic reason for this. I don’t subscribe to the notion that since aging always ends in dying, the purpose of aging is only to die; will someone please tell me that this short term memory loss has a positive side! Perhaps there is an evolutionary or “survival of the fittest” reason? Could there even be some wisdom in this? Could my mind even be refusing to take in new information so as to preserve and maybe enhance those old images and experiences? Hmm.
A person I know suggests that I am stuck in the past like many older people. I don't agree, though. This seems different. I don't think of myself as self-centered; at least not to any greater extent than younger friends and cohorts. I don’t even like to reminisce about the old times but yet I am drawn to review these memories not to relive them but maybe to commemorate them somehow. Exactly what were the courageous, hurtful, honorable, and loving events that shaped my personality, character and values? Another side feature is the more in touch I become with these memories the more I trust myself in the present and the less I seem to need recognition and approval. Hmmm.
What a gift this is!
Returning to the short-term/long-term memory story, psychologist James Hillman postulates that the key to aging successfully is to continue the human developmental process throughout the life cycle. This requires that we remember our past in order to deepen, refine and honor our thinking and character in the present. In other words the aging process requires the memory to confirm, fulfill and be in the world as we really are. Sort of like "Aging as an art form!"
Armed with this approach I might just be able to celebrate losing my keys or forgetting the clothes in the dryer. Something to think about?