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Tuesday, July 01 2014 07:40

My experience of growing old sometimes echoes that of a psychologist named Florida Scott-Maxwell. When in her eighties, and living in a nursing home, she wrote:

“A long life makes me feel nearer truth, yet it won’t go into words. So how can I convey it: I can’t and I want to.  I want to tell people approaching and perhaps fearing age that it is a time of discovery.

If they say-of what? I can only answer, ‘We must each find out for ourselves, otherwise it won‘t be discovery.’”

The classic fall day in September 1997, when I entered Harvard Yard with my daughter, is something I will never forget. It was itself a time of recollection rich in inner power.

As she approached the table to register as a first-year student, my daughter was doing something that moved me immensely. My imagination flew back to my own registration in that same place, exactly fifty years previously.

I could recall more than the external event. Some of the feelings that ran through me then as a young man were themselves almost repeated now, five decades later.

The original event made me feel pride at becoming a college student with its promise of a new freedom not tasted previously. At the same time, a troubling lack of self-confidence had risen to the surface of my consciousness.            

The memory of these feelings was something I felt again, but this time as a person nearly seventy years of age.

The difference struck me forcibly -  - the contrast between me as I was in my late teens and myself as an adult on the verge of old age. But so did the way in which psychic reality continued in me.

Comparing images of me on those two days, anyone would have been impressed with the physical changes. However, I was aware of myself as the same person, although with vastly greater knowledge and experience.

Connecting the two events, I also discovered in myself a joy, a fulfillment that my daughter was entering upon the same path where I had set foot so long before.

This indeed counted for me as a “senior moment” -  -  rather than the forgetfulness that popular culture means by that term.  Far from being something a faulty memory had failed to dredge up, this was an event recalled in all its richness.

The power of recollection, often spontaneous and unwilled, represents for me much of the adventure involved in growing old.  It forms part of Scott-Maxwell’s notion of discovery, in which she finds so much of the mystery borne by one’s later years.

The increasing abundance of these years offers more and more replay of this single happening and other such events also. They provide me with senior moments, instances when the meaning of life is disclosed little by little with no limits in sight.

The death of my father; falling in love; the birth of my daughter -  -  these stand out among the other events of my life that provide senior moments as I use the term. They bring me back to the central things impossible to forget.

The imaginative replay of such events provides me with senior moments “fierce with reality,” to use another phrase of Florida Scott-Maxwell. They can go far to make later life surprisingly dynamic. They do so by refurbishing one’s soul with a succession of precious moments.

Anyone who looks on people my age and makes easy assumptions about what is going on with us is making a major mistake. Our interior life may well be  teeming with incident and meaning, most of it not easily shared with others.