Forgetting by not re-visiting

12 03 2010

Regular readers of this blog will have noticed that I usually work in twos.

That is two events need to happen in order for me to decide that a topic is interesting enough to me for me to write about and I usually have two things to say in a “…and another thing” kind of style.

This reinforcement is itself the theme of this blog and it does follow my rule of twos!

As an adherent of the Buddhist philosophy of non-attachment I follow the path of “letting go”. This is summed up by a line I read a couple of days ago, “If we choose to forget the wrongs of the past they will lose their significance”. Essentially if you don’t remember something it can’t bother you.

It made me think about the act of forgetting. I passed 50 a couple of weeks ago and forgetting things is becoming a bigger and bigger part of my life. Just ask my son!

This was my first nudge towards the blog.

The second nudge to write came when I was tidying the walk in cupboard in my office. When I say tidying I was moving stuff about in order to find some papers that I knew had been ‘filed safely’ somewhere in there. As a consequence ofthis random moving of boxes the cupboard was tidier when I left that it was when I entered. I didn’t find the papers but I did find my wedding album.

I was 22 when i got married and had met my husband when I was a few months past my 17th birthday. Two things (again two things) struck me; firstly we were just children and secondly how much in love we were. I know this to be true but for all practical purposes I have forgotten about it.

Because we are no longer together I have no-one to talk to about shared events. The wedding album is in the back of a cupboard and while I do have a few photographs in a tin of holidays in Venice and Dunbrovnik and the like I seldom think of them and don’t talk to anyone else about them as they ae of no interest to anyone except me. Have you ever met anyone who is interested in holiday snaps other than the people in them? Had we still been together then there would have been lots of conversations starting “remember when….?”

My point is that the act of returning to past events reinforces the memory; gives it significance. It is not that I have made a conscious decision to erase thoughts from my memory but the fact of not returning to them, not reinforcing them, has caused them to vanish.

In fact I was watching a film the other evening (Jumper-it’s terrible, don’t bother) which had a scene set in the Coliseum. I know that I have visited there, I probably have photographs somewhere, but I have no real memory of it other than I know I have been. You can put part of that down to my age but I’m sure that the greater reason is that I haven’t had that ” remember when…?” conversation about this trip to Rome.

The non-attachement I practice includes the act of ‘letting go’ of past wrongs as a way to leave behind emotional baggage. I can now see that actively choosing to forget allows events to lose their significance but also failing to reinforce them has the same effect.

Revisiting old memories reinforces their significance. The act of not returning-not picking at old wounds, if you like-also strips them of their significance. And once an event becomes meaningless it will be forgotten.

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50 is the new 40

21 02 2010

When I was 21 I had lots of invitations in the post, to nightclubs I had previously had to sneak into. This morning I had an invitation to participate in NHS Tayside’s bowel screening programme. Welcome to my 50’s.

But it’s not all bad.

Looking back I remember my 10th birthday. Lots of my schoolfriends came round to the house.  We drank diluting orange juice, probably kia ora (I’ll be your dog-remember that?) and ate salmon paste sandwiches and crisps. The girls wore hot pants and the boys matching flowered shirts and ties.  We were all excited, on the thresh-hold of being “top juniors” and then off to big school.

By 20 I was at university and a party at Genevives Night Club (I wonder if it is still there? I’ll google it later. You couldn’t do that in 1980! ). That’s as much as I remember of the night. I had moved away from home, had a wonderful fiance and the world of work and independent living beckoned.

Ten years later I had been married and divorced and had just moved to Scotland to set up my own design and advertising  agency. Once again my new decade was full of possibilities. I was making a fresh start in a new country.

When I turned 40 I was at the centre of the boom, with investors queuing up to put higher and higher valuations on my fledgling retail business. I remember having lunch at the Gleneagles Hotel on the day of my birthday and not wondering what I should order or considering the price but casually wondering if I would be able to afford to buy the hotel!

And now I am 50 and at the very start of another new venture.

Each new decade has brought fresh possibilities and fresh opportunities.

We give some dates particular significance; birthdays, wedding anniversaries, Christmas and all of the other festivals we use to mark the passage of time. I notice this particularly in the community at Corbenic where I work each week. The year is structured around festivals, most Christian but some old rural feasts and some entirely arbitrary like the masked ball that accompanies Shrove Tuesday. The celebrations give a structure to the year and create the pattern for life in the community. There is always something to look forward to.

While these significant dates can have a purpose, give focus and structure to life both in planning forward and in looking back , we shouldn’t be controlled by them.  Lots of us make resolutions at the start of each year which are broken by the end of January. If something is worth doing it is worth doing at any time. Why wait until lent to give up chocolate? Why wait until 1st January to drink a little less? That is why we started a campaign to encourage people to Do Just One Thing. To make a small change. It needn’t be onerous. It needn’t be huge but the process of embracing change and trying new things is an important one.

So, in the words of one of the magazine columnists, I intend to age with attitude. Not just on my 50th birthday but from my 50th birthday and for each day forward.

Getting Old

19 11 2009

Well, we all are, aren’t we? So why am I compelled to write about this now?

My grandfather was 94 yesterday.

He’s an absolutely fabulous old man and is still able to live in his own home,  supported by regular visits from his daughters, my aunt and Mum. He has smoked a pipe all of his adult life and despite an industrial accident suffered in his early 40’s that left him with a limp and prevented him taking regular, vigorous exercise, he keeps great health…excellent health in fact as he takes no medication.  He is becoming increasingly frail and worryingly forgetful. This doesn’t worry him, of course, but it is a concern for the rest of us.  For example, when he stayed with me a couple of months ago he told me at pretty much hourly intervals that he was getting a new TV ahead of the digital switchover. The new TV duly arrived and when I asked him a couple of days later whether he liked it he was adamant that he hadn’t got a new TV! However he can still do the maths puzzle on countdown much quicker than me! So what to do next? When to intervene? He isn’t going to get any less frail or forgetful. My friends uncle has dementia and is unable to care for himself but has sufficient clarity that he has decided to refuse food and water. What should be done? He is in hospital and clearly the NHS cannot allow him to die of hunger even though it appears he has decided he has lived long enough.

And my cousin, who I grew up in constant competition with as we were the same age and constantly compared to one another by our grandmother, was 50 yesterday. So I must be 50 soon. I don’t feel 50.  Not that there is a universally accepted definition of what 50 feels like, of course.  What I should say is that I don’t feel how I thought I would feel at 50 when I was looking ahead aged 30! I still feel the same in m head looking out as I have for the past 30 years. Standing outside and looking in through the mirror tells a different story. I look as I thought I would look when I was 50.

And I am a fan of Strictly Come Dancing. Yes, who would have thought it? I don’t think that Arlene Phillips was the best of the four judges and I guess that if the programme was in need of new faces, she was the obvious one to go, but the feeling that she was removed solely because of her age is a disturbing one.

And finally, there is the creeping certainty that there are more things that I can’t do now than can. For example, I will never win an olympic gold medal for the 100m. Now I know that this was never likely but had I trained hard, applied myself and actually entered a few races, who knows, it may have been possible. Now it is absolutely impossible.

We don’t deal with well with age and ageing. We don’t, on the whole, grow old gracefully. We don’t respect the elderly for the wisdom of their years. We fight to stay looking young. We spend millions on anti-ageing creams and hair colourants to hide the grey.

Maybe this love affair with youth is what makes it difficult to deal with growing old and with making good decisions on behalf of our elderly relatives.