One of the depressing things about getting older is the realisation how little one actually KNOWS. The second depressing thing is realising how much one has forgotten. The third thing is sitting alone with the reality that one understands even less.
Unimportant as it may seem to most people, I used to know great CHUNKS of Shakespeare off by heart, I could quote poets and psalmists with equal ease. Now I struggle with a five line shopping list. I fret because I know this is not going to get better in the next decade, or in the one after that. There is a distressing inevitability washing over me – several bags of marbles have been lost irrevocably down a grate, never to be found again.
Crashing into middle age with failed brakes, I have bowed to the inevitability of mistakes, faux pas, senior moments and half remembered iambic pentameter.
Yet voices of the past, the sages, exhort us to train the collective memory:
“Be careful and watch yourselves closely, so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.”
That’s where I suspect we have gone wrong; 21st century living expects us to remember alone. We have allowed ourselves to be individualised into solitude, we don’t know how to throw memories around our crowded dinner tables and noisy communities, because we eat alone or don’t live intimately with our family and neighbours any more. Possibly the nearest we get is talking to our hairdresser every six weeks, or engaging a stranger on a train in conversation.
I don’t sleep as much as I used to – I am told this is another indicator of advancing age, but recently a psalm fragment wobbled towards me in the early hours and quoted itself.
“On my bed I remember you and think of you through the watches of the night.”
I was a relief that I could at least remember my Maker, even if the ingredients for tomorrow’s dinner eluded me.