We live our lives as fully and carefully as we can. We work hard, marry, raise children, and find a little spirituality along the way. We don’t waste time worrying about things like memory loss. Not when our jobs and our families take over our every moment. Yet, as we approach middle age, we find ourselves scrambling a lot more. We call home and leave messages for ourselves; we make notes to remind ourselves to make notes. The squares on our calendars are larger, our checklists longer. Why is that? Why are we so afraid that what we might forget might be something important?
They say there are many things we can do to keep ahead of the age curve that suddenly shoots downwards at about the age of 50. Baby boomers are refusing to go quietly into that bleak future: we are the leading market for Botox and Viagra, Sudoku and GPS. We don’t want to get wrinkles, lose our sex drive, soften our mental edge or get lost. We take Vitamin B, eat tofu, start jogging and begin a new career. We stop smoking, drinking, and eating fatty foods. We have plastic surgery, laser surgery and liposuction. Yet there is an inevitable truth following our every footstep. We are getting older. We are getting slower. What was important to us when we were 20 and 30 doesn’t correspond to our cosmic truths at 40 or 50 or 60. More body parts are starting to hurt, more facts are beginning to slip through our minds. Our color schemes are softening and our tolerance for bright light and cold weather is running low.
I suppose, in some cases, that’s a bad thing. I used to be able to spew out names of presidents and lines from Shakespeare like I was making a grocery list. Now I’m lucky if I can remember what I had for dinner two days ago. My husband says I don’t listen and I swear he needs a hearing aid. My kids say I am drunk when I’m merely relaxed, and I can’t drive anywhere without writing down the directions. I need bifocals to read and take my glasses off to read the fine print.
Yet there are good things about not having to be a sieve for every fact and figure that passes by. I don’t have to memorize speeches or do calculus or speak three foreign languages. I don’t have to pass tests, write research papers or explain the gross national product. I learn something new every day, and don’t worry about the things I don’t understand. What I can’t spell or pronounce I can still understand, even if it’s on some sub-atomic level.
But I do worry at times at my overly cautious behavior. More than once I have turned around half way to work to make sure I turned off the stove. My husband will swear he has explained something to me ten times before, yet I swear I’ve never heard a one. I don’t remember if I’ve taken my meds in the morning or in the evening or not at all. I feel my heart pound and I wonder if I’m having a heart attack. My leg feels a little swollen and I wonder if I have a blood clot. A migraine is an aneurism and a toothache is oral surgery. Adversity seems to be hitting those around me more frequency these days, and I don’t want to be stupid and ignore warning signs of something major in the works.
As the second half of my life begins, I can’t help but worry that my future will be over before I know it. Children and grandchildren. Watching a sunset in Cancun or snowfall in the Northwoods. Weddings and graduations. Retirement. Sleeping in late. Conquering Mount Everest. Buying a scooter. There are so many things we want to do before we pass on to the next world. So many places to see, things to do, people to love. We fear not being able to remember the sights and the people we’ve spent our lives experiencing.
It is a challenge to live in the moment, to live each moment fully and completely and not constantly look over our shoulder for the Grey Shadow. We have no control over what diseases may take over our bodies and our minds. But we do have control over how we live our lives today. How we love, whom we love. How we spend our spare time now.
So the next time you forget your boss’s wife’s name or the name of your favorite team’s quarterback, know that who they are is never as important as what they mean to you. You will remember the important things, the things that have always mattered to you.
The rest — are probably in the same place as your keys.