A sometimes skewed, often humorous look at aging, life, and the absurdities of it all.
You’ve had this conversation before, probably recently: Your co-worker, family member or friend asks you some variation of the question, “Did you wash my bowl in the sink?” (Or, did you take my pen, my keys, my cell phone, or some other object I swear had been where it is not now.) Even more alarming, you may be the one initiating this exchange and unable to remember something you’d done just ten minutes ago. If you’re forty, you probably dismiss it as a consequence of distraction. If you’re fifty, you shrug it off as forgetfulness. But if you’re fifty-six (my age), or older, you hear the little voice in your head whispering, “Early onset! Early onset!”
You don’t know exactly what is hitting you earlier than expected, but you’re convinced this is the beginning of the end of your ability to remember anything. You head to the drugstore for a bottle of Gingko Biloba, which you will forget to take. You look online for various illnesses that affect memory, wondering if any of them is the cause of your not remembering washing that bowl (with special dread reserved for Alzheimer’s). You take up crossword puzzles or Sudoku. You leave sticky notes to remind yourself of anything more significant than a trip to the bathroom, and you pray it’s a temporary lapse because the alternative is terrifying.
We lose many things over the course of time – objects, cherished belongings, friends, pets and loved ones. But what we fear losing most, once we admit we’ve left middle age behind, is our minds. And not in the hyperbolic, “I’m losing my mind!” way we mean when we’re being overly dramatic. But seriously, horrifyingly, losing our mental faculties. We’re told all our lives it comes with age because, well, yes, it does. We read that Alzheimer’s will reach epidemic proportions in the United States with its exploding population of old people and we worry we’re about to become an especially sad statistic. We fret and hope no one noticed we forgot what we were doing just now, and all too often we perpetuate stereotypes and our own fears by calling these incidents “senior moments.” (Apparently, were one to be a senior every moment of one’s life, one would remember nothing.)
Somewhere around the fifth decade, maybe the sixth if you have some fabulous gene mutation that keeps the memory sharp, you stop taking pride in, and insisting on, your ability to remember everything. Every pleasure, every slight, every word uttered in an argument. (Maybe that’s a good thing. Not remembering the unkind things we occasionally say to one another is probably a healthy relationship strategy.) Finally, it just doesn’t seem important anymore to recall in detail events, conversations and experiences whose real value lies in their essence: did we enjoy ourselves? Were we with friends? Did the moment, or the evening, or the journey leave us feeling full?
On a personal note, I’ll admit to fearing a loss of my ability to write, to put words together as a wordsmith, and to continue creating newness on the page, rather than repeating myself because I’ve forgotten how to imagine, or how to craft what I’ve imagined into sentences. Forgetting how to do what I’ve done all my life, and be what I’ve believed myself to be, is as frightening as the thought of losing my fingers or my eyesight. So I hurry to write a few more pages, hurry to get a few more things done because I fear I’ll soon be forgetting where I started and dreading where I’ll end.
But it’s okay, really. It’s okay not to remember washing a bowl, or what you did on Tuesday and with whom you did it. It’s okay to forget the name of a movie you wanted to see, or a song that kept playing in your head until the very moment you tried to recall the title. Just remember who you love, who loves you, and relax, it will come to you eventually. And if it doesn’t, you’ll never know.
Mark McNease is the Editor of lgbtSr, a website “where age is embraced and life is celebrated,” serving the the over-50 LGBTQ audience. He’s the author of the Kyle Callahan Mysteries, co-editor and publisher of the anthology Outer Voices Inner Lives (Lambda Literary Award finalist), host of the Live Mic with Mark podcast, and the co-creator and original writer for the Emmy winning children’s program Into the Outdoors.