Are you asking yourself every day where has this year gone? It is now the middle of November. Thanksgiving is next week; Christmas, a little more than four weeks later, and New Year’s less than a week after that.
I remember last New Year’s spent with friends as if it were yesterday, but my brain can’t manage to fill in the blanks since then. Just what happened between then and now? Where did the time go? Did I do anything to justify my comfortable existence on this plane? What did I check off my bucket list? Did I make a difference in someone’s life? Did I grow in wisdom or spiritual understanding? What did I do that matters in the long run? But wait. Do I even have a “long run” left? In the grand scheme of things, I probably have only a good, hard sprint remaining, and this just when I’m beginning to get the hang of things.
How about this feeling? I popped into a restroom yesterday after seeing Clint Eastwood’s latest film, “J. Edgar” (Hoover) starring Leonardo Dicaprio. There was a younger but not young woman sharing the sink with me, and I asked if she had just seen this movie. “Yes, ma’am,” she said, before she briefly shared her take. I was momentarily taken aback by her “yes, ma’am,” but Southerners are polite that way. I thought it was just a conversation between women, but clearly she observed an age difference. Inside, I feel no older than my mid-30’s, a fact that research has established as being true in all of us. Would that the mirror were as kind.
(Speaking of “J. Edgar,” pay close attention to the way Dicaprio ages in the movie through heavy makeup stages. This is not, repeat not, what you want to look like as the years weigh in. Get thee to a dermatologist, drink lots of water, avoid the typical American diet and use good skin care products morning and night!)
Earlier this week over lunch, a good friend disclosed plans for a trip to Paris to celebrate a significant anniversary with her husband. She was wondering where they might stay this time, and I immediately suggested the charming old hotel on the Left Bank where I had stayed the last time I was there. I even recalled the street name. She asked how long ago it had been, and my senses were jolted to admit it had been a decade ago. While I can’t tell you what we had for supper last night.
I easily recall Paris as it was that long ago. It’s a strange phenomenon, but not uncommon, is it? The distant memories take precedence over the daily minutiae.
And there’s another strange thing that happens in our heads. Research has determined that our brains are hard-wired to recall the worst of our experiences in life over and over and, curiously, not the best ones. Those memories play over and over in a loop in our brains, a self-defeating feature that comes built into our psyches. Negative emotions accompany each of those bad memories and can become a debilitating burden if we don’t work consciously to replace the bad with the better recollections. We have a choice either to live under a cloud of negativity or to remake our mental states by infilling our brains with what is more pleasant.
Interestingly, it is the habit of educated and enlightened brains and the brains of those who are growing older (and usually wiser) to eschew thoughts, sounds and pictures of what is violent, shocking, unseemly, raw, angry and cruel. However, these are the things that appeal to pre- and teen boys, judging by the types of movies that seem to be aimed at that slice of society. I close my eyes and stuff my fingers in my ears when previews for movies like that show up on the screen. I will not allow those images to invade my thoughts. Our psyches require protection.
While over time our brains become less and less reliable for memory — thank goodness for Post-Its — our older brains develop an amazing ability to appreciate the meaning of time. Yes, it slides by too rapidly to make us feel good about its passage, but aren’t we beginning to enjoy more discernment about what is worthy, what is important and what really matters? We do not have as much time left on this Earth as we once did, but now we know the value of the time we have. When time seemed to stretch endlessly before us, we wasted a lot of it. Now every moment matters.
Barbara Morgan is a Covington resident with a background in newspaper journalism, state government and politics. She chairs the Newton Advisory Committee.