Or when I can’t remember my age.
“We’re the same age, remember?” Bill responds to my question.
“Okay. And how old is that?” He recites my birth year, encouraging me do the math. I’m sure he’s thinking using math skills keep the mind working longer.
As dull as my memory has become these days, the real cause of my inability to remember my age is that I spend so much time trying on my new and approaching birthday – the one that I’m dreading a year in advance. I live in the future so much that I disorient myself.
We’re told to live in the present - it’s best to live in the present - but obviously I struggle to accomplish this goal. I like to think of living in different realms as exercising my aging mental skills. Besides, if we were meant to live only in the present, our memory would be unnecessary. By its very nature, memory allows us to keep the past with us while simultaneously living in the present.
Memory has been on my brain recently for many reasons: I’m seeing mine reflect its age, and I’ve spent this year reading and writing fiction about memory. I’ve looked at the gift and genius of memory and marveled, wondering how our lives would look without it. What if someone we loved died and we had no ability to remember them anymore? What if we moved to another part of the country but forgot the people and the place we left behind?
In Anthony Doerr’s collection of short stories, The Memory Wall, he examines the value and role of memory, looking at memories belonging to individual people, but also collective memories of entire cultures, some that simply go away. Communities are moved, some to make way for progress, some to make room for someone else, governments fail, etc. But Doerr also depicts the ability of memory to torment us when we grieve the past through our memories, grieve memories we’ll never make, (Infertile couples grieve never making memories with a child. The parents at Newtown grieve future memories stolen from them.), or we grieve the disintegrating nature of our memory which reminds us (ironically) that our time to make new memories is limited.
But I do remember this: some forgetting is good. Unless something stirs them up, I have laid to rest many moments I never care to relive. Some memories should be blocked out permanently. But if I so choose, I have memory files to open that will bring my dear but broken father back to life and remember driving beside him in the car as we quietly daydreamed together, the road ahead a seemingly endless journey on a sunny New England day. I remember moments with a house full of my loud sons, everyone talking at once, laughing uproariously over some of their antics. Or I can conjure up a nostalgic time period like college and revisit dear friends there. Then when I’m ready, I close up those files and save them for another day, fully living in the present, as long as I can recall where I put my purse, glasses, and my husband’s cell phone number in case I need him to come pick me up when I’m lost.