Retirement Talk

WHAT to do with the rest of your life?


Episode 303 "You just don't get it"

"The Sense of an Ending" is the name of a recently award winning book by Julian Barns. I read the book. Then without putting it down I turned back to page one and reread it. In conversation with a friend this past week I found she did the very same thing. She said she had never done that before. Neither had I.

This is Retirement Talk. I'm Del Lowery.

The book deals with memory. Do we remember what has happened in our life? Or do we remember just parts of what happened in our life? The parts we like. Or do we remember what we wish had happened? We make up events, places, people and make them all act according to our desires. 

Retired people like to spend some time looking backwards. We like to chat about what it was like during our childhood: walking through ten feet of snow to get to school - the good ol' days. We like to talk about friends we had during our work career: he always had his suite coat buttoned or he always packed a gun.  We like to talk about our parents or grandparents and their little ideocyncrocies: he would play a harmonica and dance a jig; she chewed tobacco all day every day.  We dig into our minds and come up with these stories or what happened, what we felt, or thought, or did.

"The Sense of an Ending" digs into our mind in a weird way and leaves us wondering if we actually read the book or not. Did we miss something? A whole chapter? We must have? What was it? Go back and read it again. At the end of the second reading I was still left wondering.

How much of our life do we really remember? I have a hard time even considering the question. I like to think that I remember what happened about somethings in detail. When I launch into a story at a dinner party I have no doubt in mind as to the details. This book left doubts in my mind at anything I might claim to remember.

In conversations with my siblings I often find myself disagreeing over what we recall about the past. I can hear my sister forever saying, "Don't you remember that?" And my response, "No,  I don't remember that".

The book has set me wondering about all of the bad deeds I recall doing in my life? I am now wondering if they were really that bad? Perhaps I have not remembered the circumstances, the action itself or the reasons for that particular event. I am starting to like the idea that my memory may be a bit faulty. I do have regrets concerning a few things I've done. But perhaps I have forgotten the way it really happened. Maybe I wasn't as bad or ruthless as I sometimes remember.

By the same token this may explain the glow that I have painted around others memories. Perhaps I really was not so valiant, virtuous, understanding or humorous. I like to describe events in bright colors: The hill was soaking wet and steep enough to challenge mountain goats, the river was arctic cold and super swift, the guy was big as a  bus and covered with hellish looking tattoos, he had that mean, junkyard dog look, etc. Hyperbole has become a way of life. Some of us have a way of telling a good story and allegory, metaphor, high color and embellishments always find their way into the telling.

I studied history in college and know that interpretations of the past change with time and circumstances. Scholars reach back using the best methods available and tell us what happened. Then years go by and other scholars change the picture. New papers are discovered, letters emerge, new artifacts are found, new technology reveals discrepancies and a different story takes root. History changes.

All of this makes our own story a little suspect. It makes our memories questionable. It makes our own truth a bit doubtful. All of this is something we may do well to - well, remember.

It doesn't mean we shouldn't think and talk about the past. It doesn't mean we shouldn't write our memories. It doesn't mean we shouldn't trust our past experiences to lend wisdom to our current actions. But it does mean that we might be a bit circumspect about the whole thing.

We can still tell our tales, spin our yarns, and attest to the way it was. But we might end many or our memories with: "That's the way I remember it".

This is Retirement Talk.

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