“Hey Tom, do you realize our memory is resilient but also very fragile?”
“Yes, I’ve heard that is so, Dave.”
“It’s so scary though Tom, when you think that everything we do or say depends upon the smooth operation of our memory system. Any form of memory loss would be tragic.”
“It’s scary, alright, they say aging inevitably brings a decline in memory, just when I like to reminisce about the past.”
“Yes Tom, memories are about the past. That’s why time seems to speed up for us oldies, we have more past than future.”
We shifted on our green padded stools.
“I think we need bigger stools, Dave.”
We both laughed.
“They say memory is unreliable, why is that, Dave?”
“The past is fixed, BUT: Every time you recall a memory it is changed because every time you “see” the memory in a different light, a different perspective. It no longer means exactly what it meant at the time of the original memory.”
“That’s interesting Dave, I didn’t realize that.”
“Tom, here’s a curious fact about memory: In looking to the past, you realize you may NOT have access to the original memory because you cannot possibly recover the PERSPECTIVE you had at the time.”
“Very interesting, I’m learning so much today.”
“Let me tell you a story:
I remember a row with my father when I was 13 years old. He worked nights so I hardly ever saw him. I wanted him to go on the day shift so he could be a regular father to me like the other kids had. I also wanted him to show more interest in me. I looked at that dispute as a TRIUMPH for my arguments.
In looking back now, I feel SHAME. I had no feeling for my father’s point of view, what motivated him and what his aspirations were. Maybe he was dissatisfied with his life.
Now being older, my perspective on that event has altered, from TRIUMPH to SHAME!”
“Oh boy, Dave, that story is food for thought.”
“Tom, do you have any similar stories?”
“Yes I do, but it’s a long one.”
“Oh well, put it in a reply on my blog and I will read it later.”
“I was thinking, Dave, about how my mind flits from the past to the present to the future and back again. It’s strange.”
“You probably think more about the past because it has “pictures”. The present is so fleeting that you don’t realize you’re thinking about it because it’s significance is so fleeting.”
“Dave, here’s a fact I read, a 70 year old knows what it’s like to be 20, whereas
A 20 year old has no idea what it is like to be 70!”
“That’s the asymmetries of life. I like that word: Asymmetries.”
“Tom, did you know that Old Age is the longest life stage?”
“No Dave, I didn’t.”
“The stages of youth—Baby, infant, toddler, child, adolescent, young adult, approximately a 21 year span. But you are in none of these stages for long.
According to the actuaries, you will be old for 25-30 years.”
“That’s amazing, BUT: the thing that bothers me lately is forgetting.
Every once in awhile I struggle to find the right word. The worry is not so much being unable to find the right word as the knowledge that I know it!”
“I know, it’s frustrating but I’ve learned that autobiographical memory is the most susceptible to disruption, distortion or loss.”
We were silent for a minute.
“Hey Tom, my mouth is getting dry, lets order another beer.”
We both drank a quarter of our pints at once, we were so dry!
“So, lets recap: No matter what the cause of memory loss, the consequences are a disaster, much of what has been acquired and learned is gone. The person with anterograde memory loss, loses the ability to store new experiences in a way that can be recalled. His future is wiped out while he is alive.
A person with retrograde memory loss, the past has been erased or rendered in accessible, the person they once were with abilities, talents and character traits has vanished!”
“Hey Dave, do you live in the past? This question was asked of me. It implies that my present is so impoverished that I must take refuge in the comfort of my idealized memories. In other words, I am a “poor thing.”
“Maybe Tom, us oldies should embark on a review of our lives. What do you think?”
“Sounds interesting Dave, because as we age, one becomes preoccupied with “Who One Is” rather than “What One Does.”
“Yes Tom, with the life review you want to recap what themes and events helped to define you as a UNIQUE person. It’s a reminiscence-based process of coming to terms with one’s life.”
“Hey Dave, I remember a lot about my adolescence and young adulthood. Why, I wonder?”
“Well Tom, my friend, it’s because the events in these two periods define us, our identity, our place in the world. These two periods provide us with our CORE adult story that we carry around with us, largely unchanged, for our life.”
“Dave, do you look at old family photos?”
“Yes Tom, my old photos serve as cues to my autobiographical recollections. My photos allow me to make contact with, and even relive, parts of my personal past.”
We finished our beers.
“In conclusion, I maintain that memories of our past make us “poor things” into story tellers. And the stories we tell are potent determinants of how we view ourselves.”
“Well there’s certainly lots of ideas to mull over:
You can judge your age by the amount of pain you feel when you come in contact with a new idea.”
Tom and Dave have left the building!
Also published on Medium.