Losing it and letting go


Living for ever

“Where did I put my keys?”

Why do I go out, lock the door, then have to unlock it to get something I’d forgotten? Not once, not twice, but three times.

“Yes, I rang you, but I’ve forgotten what about—oh, wait a minute, now I remember.”

Our brains are wired so that as we age, we remember 30 years ago better than yesterday. There are good reasons for this in terms of self- and species preservation. We remember what is good and bad for us. We remember what we learnt by experience.

In days gone by, the loss of recent memory didn’t matter much since we were unlikely to live long enough for it to become a problem. But now we live too long. Or some people do.

Remembering stuff from decades ago can be depressing. We tend to dwell on the days when we were fit and active, and when we grabbed life by the short and curlies. We become sad about what we can’t do any more. We need to grieve these losses: the loss of youth and energy and get-up-and-go. And we need to acknowledge that things we once thought important have turned out to be no more than seductive bubbles that have burst, leaving only a soapy mess.

11212629_835354123185770_7807558211314617443_oRather than moping, try mopping. Honour what you used to be able to do and absorb it into yourself. Accept that you can’t do it any more. Take up something you can. I’m very impressed with what SWMBO has achieved in a short time having taken up crocheting. I need to find something like that. Think how you might share your wisdom and experience with younger people. Talk to them as friends. One of the sadnesses about my relationship with my father was that before he died (I was then 37) we never reached the stage of talking to each other as friends. I dare say it was as much my fault as his, but at that time his words seemed only to be given as peremptory instructions.


There comes a time to acknowledge that it’s someone else’s turn to carry the flag. We see people doing things that our experience tells us will come to grief, and we want to tell them why. If only we could plug a memory stick into a USB port on the side of our heads, transfer our wisdom to it for transmission to someone else’s brain. Maybe bodily USB ports will be the next stage of our evolution. Dr Phibes, the wonderful Vincent Price, seemed to have some such thing on the side of his neck.

Hindu sanyassi give up all their possessions and wander off to fend for themselves. I find this peculiarly attractive. I’ve lived my life backwards in a sense, each change of job in the last 10 years some sort of a renunciation, with less and less income (poor SWMBO). But I lack guts to go the whole hog (relieved SWMBO). Enjoy getting older. Acknowledge the right of others to cock up just like you did. Let go of the will to control and influence, and relax into life. Clutter, rank, things, attitudes, stuff, possessions—none of this matters. The only things that matter are relationships. Live in the present because before you know it, it’ll be too late.

Living in the past leads to depression. Living in the future leads to anxiety. Living in the present leads to peace.

2 thoughts on “Losing it and letting go

  1. When you write about finding something to do.. I wonder if I might be so bold as to suggest something? Your students have the fondest memories of you, not just of your wisdom but also of your wonderful wit and insightfulness. And we speak of you with great fondness, very often! When we talk about our happy days with you somebody always says “I wish he would write a book”! We wish that you would. A book about life, your experiences as a Professor in Dublin, your thoughts on life, we would love you to share your life with those of us who knew you and remember you with such fondness. And indeed with those who never had that privilege. I hope that this finds you well. Best wishes from Dublin

    • That’s lovely, Bernie. Maybe I shall. I’ve written on here about my life as a student (in A great future behind me). but not yet about RCSI. From a personal point of view it wasn’t the best time of my life – very stressful for one reason and another. Some of what I could say concerns people who are still alive, and it might not be terrible complimentary! But you have tickled my grey cells and I shall see what comes from them. Greetings from Burton!

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