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MURKY MEMORY HAS ITS UPS AND DOWNS

The song says: "Memories, light the corners of my mind." As I wallow in middle age, the corners of my mind are pretty damn dark. I've often heard people say they wish they knew then what they know now. Personally, I wish I knew now what I used to know then.

There was a time when I could do math in my head; now I'm lucky if I can find the "on" button on the calculator. And why is it that I remember Sattler's, Commander Tom and Madonna as a virgin, but I can't recall my neighbor's name or the PIN I need to get money out of my savings account?

Why is it I seem to know less and less about more and more?

I love the expression, "if memory serves me well." My memory is not a servant, it is a cruel master that mocks me with murky recollections of names, faces and events that float in and out of focus.

There are advantages to a failing memory, of course. I've forgotten most of the disappointments, mistakes and embarrassments that we all suffer in life.

On the other hand, there is a downside. I have difficulty recalling my late father's voice, my grandmother's smile and the name of the girl I had a mad crush on in kindergarten.

I realize my complaints are minor compared to those who are afflicted with major cognitive impairments, and I would never make light of their situation. It's just that my brain doesn't seem to work as well as it used to, and I need to vent.

Last year I attended a presentation by the director of a local Alzheimer's group. (I wish I could think of her name.) After the talk, I expressed my frustration over my failing faculties. Why, I asked, do I now spend an enormous amount of time searching mall parking lots for my car? I swear someone moves it around while I shop.

She asked me if I ever walked into the kitchen and stared at the fridge, unable to remember why I was there.

"Yes!" I said, now certain I was tumbling into the blue haze of early senility. She smiled. "It's perfectly normal to forget what you wanted from the fridge. When you cannot remember what a refrigerator is for, then you've got problems."

She told me that busy people are often forgetful, and I probably was absent minded when I was young. I just don't remember.

I was confused. "So I've forgotten that I had a bad memory? That can't be good."

"Relax," she told me. "You're perfectly normal."

Well, I don't feel normal, let alone perfect. Isn't there some wonder drug I can start taking before I forget the names of my own children? Will doing crossword puzzles or eating asparagus stave off the decline of my mind?

Am I destined to greet everyone I meet on the street with a vague, "How you doing, buddy," because I usually have no clue who they are?

How come Einstein was writing complicated formulae well into his 70s and I can't figure out the presets on my car radio?

I'll just have to persevere and accept my misty memories as a minor inconvenience. Plus, I have the advantage of selective amnesia. I can forget household chores, unpleasant assignments at work and my dental appointments. All things considered, aging isn't that bad.

ROBERT O'CONNOR lives in Hamburg.