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Baruch speaking at a MOWSF volunteer training.

Thoughts on Aging: The Upside of Forgetting

Posted September 11, 2013

MOWSF Blog | Senior Issues

Recently I visited my local thrift store, where I gravitated towards the small appliances section. I love looking at old stuff – old-fashioned toasters, coffee makers, adding machines… It’s pleasant a reminder of bygone years, though I’m glad I don’t own any of it!

It so happens that my thrift store visit coincided with my musings about becoming more forgetful as I get older.

In this column a few weeks ago I wrote about the importance of imaginative remembering as we grow old. I was referring to a process of reflection in order to come to new understandings of what our lives have been about.

Since that time I have been thinking about the gift of not remembering. I am not referring to the loss of memory through illness or dementia but rather the naturally occurring phenomenon of forgetfulness. We do seem to become more forgetful as we grow old. But I think that may be nature’s way of helping us do the work of old age, of helping us focus on what is essential in life and to clear away the rest.

Remembering facts, dates, events, etc. is a necessary aspect of successful functioning in the world. But just as there needs to be a letting go of our public persona, the excess accumulation of things and ambitions that no longer serve, as we grow old, we also need to let go of those memories which no longer serve a useful purpose – memories of hurts, slights, regrets, and other grievances. These kinds of memories are internal clutter.

As we age, we each need to find a way to let go of this internal clutter and enjoy the freedom of no longer having to remember them. Being human means having the capacity to create an internal narrative of who we are and what our lives are about.

We can choose to rehearse and keep alive the memories of a hurtful past or we can let these memories go and consign them to oblivion –  to the “thrift store” where outdated stuff sits on a shelf to be forgotten.

“Thoughts on Aging” is a column by Baruch Gould, MOWSF’s Manager of Volunteer Programs, on issues related to seniors and aging. You can reach him at bgould@mowsf.org.

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