Ageing and the ‘ X files’

I was talking to an elderly friend and he was saying that his loss of memory frightened him, especially as he was now so vague about the present yet mentally alert about the distant past. That past can be a pest, and from its deep reservoir all sorts of memories can surface; some of them very unwelcome indeed.

Most of us haven’t lived blameless lives and many things that we have done or not done make us unhappy or even ashamed. And they are not easily buried. They can pop up without warning and often from way back, especially in the night when we are least able to resist them. These are the ‘X files’ that won’t go away.

When you are younger the sheer business of your days, the responsibilities that surrounded you and the necessity to get on with your life, help to suppress the murkier or distressing bits and pieces of your past. When younger the opportunities you failed to meet, the people you upset, the personal weaknesses that you never shared with anyone – they can more easily be thrust aside, as you move on to the next thing.

But that very special gift of old age which is time to reflect, brings to mind the very things you would like to forget or do something about, but for the fact that it is now too late.

I had offended a member of the organisation for which I worked. I can’t remember what it was about, but one day on the square of the estate where I lived, she loudly upbraided me. ‘You are very, very rude’ she shouted. I got the anger but resisted the charge. I still think about it. I can remember the look on her face. Then I thought she was wrong; now I suspect she was right. Such memories and many worse sometimes rise to the surface, and can spoil our days.

I gather that in some areas of church life, the confessional still has a place. Perhaps the idea is helpful to all of us, and if its not forgiveness we are in need of, certainly a sense of perspective about past failures would help us with the X moments.

Few of us are natural villains but all of us can laugh at ourselves sometimes, grieve a little perhaps, confess our follies to ourselves, and then allow the past to rest, as we move on. The future may have a limited horizon for us, but it still beckons and belongs to us.