AN EXAMINED LIFE?
Can you remember the first time you noticed that you could recall an event that happened ten years ago? That was the first jolt of reality that really shook me. When you're old enough to remember clearly things that happened that long ago, you suspect you're no longer young—or at least not as young as once you were. Of course, when you have a clear recollection of things you did and people you knew fifty years ago, you know you're getting old, even if nothing else has made that knowledge inescapable.
So what other signs are there of our reclassification in the actuarial tables? One that seems almost too common to be mentioned is the realization that you can't climb stairs or run or jump from stepping stone to stepping stone across a stream with your old agility, not to mention play a pickup game of basketball, or enjoy sandlot baseball or kayaking any more. What about the day you get through weeding the flowerbed and have to think carefully, arrange your legs and hands judiciously, and clamber to your feet with the hope that no one is observing your imitation of a giraffe?
Travel tires you, driving at night becomes more of a challenge than you're willing to face, you long for not only your fireside in the metaphorical sense, but also the literal—not to mention bed at an earlier hour (or perhaps much later) than was your wont.
Do your memories make you wish to live the best times over again, or grateful that you'll never have to? How much would you do over if you had a chance? How many miserable moments would you choose never to have known, even given what they may have taught you? Do you long to relive the happiest times? Can you answer those questions without a pause?
Maybe it helps adjusting to where old people find ourselves if we can say we wouldn’t want to go back. In spite of having lived a life too happy for me to deserve, it isn’t something I’d want to live again.
Having said that, I wonder if I can say why…perhaps because I don’t remember the person I was at those times as anyone I would want to meet now. If I haven’t learned anything else, I’ve found out that if we can feel we’ve become wiser, more compassionate, steadier, and more humorous with age, there are few of us who wouldn’t be ashamed to be the self-absorbed, over-confident, basically ignorant youths we had to grow up from. Even if we could choose to relive a day in our lives like Emily in Our Town, many of us wouldn’t do it. Maybe it made sense for her because she died so young.
What we do need to figure out is how to resurrect the joys as well as the anguish of our callow selves by recalling them in our present state of decline. My list of those is long, and I’m surprised at how some of the worst things seem to have lost sharp focus. I’m glad for that. There’s no need to try to sharpen what is now blurred; I can concentrate on looking at the photos that capture the times when I was so happy. I even knew it then, and just give thanks now.
The hardest part, I think, is recognizing the necessity of looking forward enough so as not to fall into the trap of trying to live the rest of our time so focused on the past that we throttle all possibilities of, at the least, enjoyment in the here and now. Writing this post is one of those anchors for the present.