Memories: Both a Comfort and a Curse

“What makes old age hard to bear is not the failing of one’s faculties, mental and physical, but the burden of one’s memories.” — Somerset Maugham

While assembling quotes about writing, by writers, I stumbled upon the above quote by Mr. Maugham, which so resonated with me.

It somehow seems that as the years pass, experience offers us new perspectives on our past, like a receding landscape while ascending a mountain. These new views from a higher elevation reveal much that we missed when we were in “the thick of it” so to speak.

Life is an experience. For much of that experience we weren’t as attentive as we might have been. “I was there but where was my head at?” we may be asking ourselves.

In reflecting on life we see highlights such as weddings, breakups, transitions, travel experiences, deaths. These major moments and events each left a mark on our inner narrative. But in truth, there were other events which seemed so insignificant at the time that we failed to notice them. Or we noticed but failed to give them their due respect.

My grandmother’s poem Aftermath of a Stroke shows how the good times, remembered, bring us comfort in our later years. This may be why as people age and slowly distribute all the things they’ve accumulated over the course of lifetime, the last thing they part with are photos of the children and grandchildren and those special people in their lives.

As I’ve aged, I seem to have become increasingly aware of that other class of memories that causes one to cringe, to be ashamed. Friendships destroyed by one’s own careless stupidity, relationships marred by one’s failure to see what was really happening, opportunities wasted by personal weakness. How could I have been so blind, so foolish. Worst of all, I have only myself to blame.

I accused, I misunderstood, I failed to see. I spoke when I should not have, and failed to speak when I should have….

Marcel Proust in Swann’s Way wrote, “We are healed of a suffering only by experiencing it to the full.” Maybe this is why the more painful memories still surface from time to time. It may not be possible to go back and find resolution through asking forgiveness from those we’ve hurt, but we can choose to accept, even embrace, the pain it causes us, instead of denying it or trying to escape it. Fully experienced, it loses its sting as we forgive ourselves.

I don’t know if every generation has paced so much emphasis on “living in the now” or “in the moment” but it’s certainly been an oft-repeated message over the course of my own lifetime. I doubt that anyone really does this fully, though. There are simply too many experiences and so much nourishment received as we relive them through our memories.

It was this kind of thinking that led me to write my short story “The M Zone” 25 years ago, which you can read here on Medium . The story also appears in my eBook Newmanesque.

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Bottom Line: Each day is an opportunity to make new memories, for ourselves and for others. Our choices today will shape the memories we have tomorrow.

An avid reader who writes about arts, culture, literature & other life obsessions. @ennyman3 Look for my books on Amazon

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