Toni Clark

Write Your Own Script

Memory Serves


The average person misplaces up to nine items a day…

When I lose my keys, I can’t blame an aging memory.  Young, old and in between, I’ve misplaced them. And according to Sumathi Reddy, in the Wall Street Journal, I’m not alone.  “The average person misplaces up to nine items a day and one-third of respondents in a poll said they spend an average of 15 minutes a day searching for items—cell phones, keys and paperwork top the list…”

As frustrating as it can be at any age to forget things, I’m trying to become less of a hand wringer about the foibles of memory. Don’t ask me the circumstances under which I last insulted someone or embarrassed myself by not coming up with a name.  I don’t dwell on it.  When I was younger I might have replayed that unfortunate moment as though there were some way to rectify it.

My older memory surprises me…

Instead, I notice that my older memory surprises me, taking me places I didn’t care to go when I was younger.  In lake water on a warm day suddenly I feel as if my father, now gone many years, is nearby. I remember how I sat as a little girl full of trust, on his chest while he did a backstroke into deep water.  A hot cup of coffee sometimes conjures up the cafeteria attached to a drug store where my friends and I used to meet to sort out our lives in Seattle, when I was in college.

A few years ago, my memory took me back to visit an old love who I hadn’t thought of for years. How odd at this point in life to stand outside on a cold night and find myself revisiting a marriage proposal I turned down at 20 in similar weather. There was the guy, handsome and young, enticing still.  There was me then, chilly and scared, earnestly trying to do the right thing for me and for him. Since I knew the story of “me and him” ended there, it was tough to leave the scene again. I felt my old ambivalence. How terrific to feel that again with the perspective of time passed. I could admire those darling kids trying to get started in life as best they could, and appreciate that one of them had been me. I remembered how life rushed at me after I made that first adult choice, and how things worked out in the end for both of us.

I know memory reconstructs and fabricates in ways that the facts, were they available, would not support.  Yet, remembering is compelling travel. I revisit dramatic moments from the past with new curiosity, aware that a longer view probably alters what I experience.  But there is I satisfaction in reliving in rich sensory detail some of the sweet and challenging days I’ve already experienced, however dubious some of the details. Sometimes I discover that moments uncomfortable or distressing have softened.

Remembering is compelling travel…

With age, I think my memory is hitting stride and finding worthy work. Even though it is an unreliable historian, storyteller, and illusionist—my memory is masterful with the senses. The pungent smell of cedar and mud on a wooded path, my mother’s wrinkled red leather walking gloves that I discovered in the pocket of my oldest coat, or the words on framed canvas that my son printed and illustrated at the start of the Iraq War when he was 11. These details have provoked scenes, conversations, people, and times that mean something to me.

Memory may prod me to make sense of things past, but more importantly, it invites me to savor the life I’ve lived. And when I want to linger in any one place, memory nags, “Don’t stay too long! You have lived a long life and there is lots of territory to cover.”

References and Links:

“Why We Keep Losing Our Keys,” Wall Street Journal, April 15, 2014.

“Memory Changes in Older Adults,” American Psychological Association.

“Strategies to Improve Working Memory,” by Martin Mak




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