One of the most enriching aspects of getting older is the accumulation of memories, so many memories. By that, I certainly do not mean nostalgia, an unfortunate state of mind which is defined in most dictionaries as:
- A bittersweet or wistful longing for things, persons or situations of the past, or
- The condition of being homesick
What I mean instead is the depth and dimension new events acquire when they are informed by memories of past experience. Once again, as he seems always to be, Shakespeare is right: “The past is prologue” - the backstory prepares us for and increases appreciation of the present.
It can be as simple as a short train of thought when putting on a pair of earrings: Donna bought these for me ten years ago in that funny, little town of Mauch Chunk we visited one Thanksgiving...it will be Thanksgiving soon again...time for the annual celebration with Donna’s entire family...pictures of a bountiful table with 20 or 30 good friends flood my mind...I make a mental note to decide what gifts to find for them this year.
Sometimes, discovering an artifact from the past can clear up a lifelong mystery. I was raised in Oregon and northern California. No one in my family had ever visited New York nor spoken of it in particular. But I cannot recall a time when I did not dream of living here and had never understood where that desire came from.
Then, in the days when I did a lot of Naptster downloading, I came across a tune that instantly slammed me back to age five or six listening to it on my parent’s 78rpm phonograph. I felt like I was inside that little girl’s body again, entranced by the music, and although I had not heard it in half a century, I could sing along with every lyric.
I tracked down the original of the entire album on eBay and eventually found an obscure CD version. It's a bit too sentimental for my taste today and the orchestration is overdone, but I am convinced, now, it is this music that began my love affair with New York City 50 years ago and without it, I might have had an entirely different life somewhere else. What an astonishing thing to know about oneself - that 20 minutes of music from childhood was the prologue to the direction of lifetime.
Some memories triggered by a new event lead to other kinds of understanding. Recently, through one of those accidents of the Internet, an old boyfriend from 20-odd years ago and I were reintroduced. No more than ten years ago, should the same thing have happened, I would have been in a tizzy of apprehension at having dinner with him (as I did four days ago). What will I wear? Will he think I’m old? Fat? Boring?
Now I don’t care. I was eager to catch up, hear what’s happened in the intervening decades and to laugh. We always laughed a lot, and now, we had twice as much to laugh about – the past and the present. The bonus is I can relish having passed some threshold of adulthood I might not have identified otherwise: no more tizzies.
These are only three small examples. Others turn up frequently.
The passage of time can deepen appreciation, based on experience, of a favorite book re-read or movie watched again. We do learn from mistakes and sometimes, in recalling last time, we don’t repeat them. And we continue to pursue our passions, as the years roll by, building on what came before until maybe, just maybe, we can almost understand what life is about.
This kind of enrichment is unavailable to youth. It is gained only by getting older and by recalling the past as prologue to whatever new adventures will appear today.