Recently I came away from Nick Hornsby’s latest book, Funny Girl, thinking about how we often dwell in the past. I always said I would never be one of those people who constantly relives a shining moment from their teen years, like Tony’s horse race in the Seven Up series. Or the new bride who tells me her wedding day was the best day of her life: I always think, “I hope not!” I posted once about how some older people believe life is getting worse and their best years are behind them. Will I feel that way someday, too?
Re-thinking it, I can see the reasons for events in the past to spring to mind so quickly.
We have had time to replay the events in our minds, talk about them, write about them, and turn them into stories. Every time we recall an event, we are committing it to memory all over again, and reinforcing it. If it was a shared experience, we can bounce memories off the other person, discover new details, argue over and modify our stories, and bond over them.
First times are powerful. Whether it’s our first kitten or first kiss, they imprint deeply. Even more so in the teen years when we have developed a sense of self apart from our families, we think for ourselves, and we get a taste of independence.
Double that for trauma: a break-up, a car accident, a death in the family. Sometimes the sequence of events is a blur but we don’t forget the way we felt or how it changed us.
When I think of my childhood, I realize my memories are composites: some are actual memories, but they’re combined with family stories, and talking about photos I’ve seen again and again. There were also things we did as a family year after year, such as family reunions or the way we celebrated holidays, that all blend into one.
Of course there are rites of passage, whether formal ones like graduations, or informal ones like driving a car or getting into a bar.
Over the years, we gain new perspectives on things that happened, interpret them different ways, or give them new meanings.
I find it interesting how my views of my own life have changed. When I was in my 20s, I obsessed over how I was raised – what went right and what went wrong in my family of origin. I needed to work out how I’d live my own adult life. What would I keep and what would I toss?
In my 30s that translated into intentional parenting and trying not to unconsciously replicate anything from the past that should have been left there (which was the theme of another book I read recently, Breath Eyes Memory).
In my mid-40s I realized that most of my child and teen experiences were so far in the past that I could never say to my child “When I was your age…” without eye-rolling and complete irrelevance.
It was curiously freeing. It allowed me to live fully in the present and not to continually relive my youth and think about how I could apply my experiences to my child’s experiences. I could do it in my mind, for me. But I couldn’t do it in their mind, for them.
Twenty years from now, I wonder how I’ll remember life in my 50s. Right now it is a strange blend of presence and absence. No kids at home, but trying to translate parenting into loving friendship. Being in the workplace with almost 30 years’ experience. Still being able to spend holidays with my parents. Having all my abilities. Being a newlywed (only 5 years in!)
It will all flow together. I have so many routines – work days and family visits, meals and fitness and reading and concerts. Not so many first times, but not so much trauma, either.
I bet these will look like my glory days someday.
If you are young, you may think this sounds a little sad, and that I don’t have much to look forward to. But among my generation, we smile and wink at each other because most of us like living in this time, living for the day and the week and the year. We don’t want the drama of youth and we know we’re a long away from being frail-elderly. We enjoy the little things and don’t need to be blown away by the latest and greatest all the time (except for our technology – bring it on!)
It is a good place to be.
(Some info about memory storage was adapted from The Organized Mind by Daniel J. Levitin).
totally agree with you………….
Glad it’s not just me, then!
I too am loving this period of my life. Thanks for readining inspiration.
Thanks. I feel like I’ve made it to real adulthood!
A couple of years ago I realised I was very happy to be in my mid/late 20s…witnessing lots of drama from 17/18 year olds made me very pleased not to be that age again! I think, generally, age brings more freedom from giving a sh*t what people think of you, and a better idea of what you want from life.
So your life sounds awesome, rather than ‘a little sad’ to me 🙂
I do think that every decade, I’ve been happy to leave the previous one! Definitely more comfortable in my own skin.
Completely agree with you now I am in my 50s – looking back when family were all still here it seemed so full on every single day of the week. Now we are both busy – my work and hubby started own business 3 years ago which gets busier each week. This sort of fills that family gap but we do have less energy so the weekends now are time to try and recharge the batteries. It is nice to reminicse but the past was then and what you did at the time was for a reason so we try not to regret and just think forward. Overall we think we have done okay so far and health holding out, hope to continue in the same way for many years to come.
Completely agree! Sounds like we are in the same place.
I’ve loved every period of my life. Always love in the present – through the good, bad and ugly. I also like reminiscing. I love the counter play between memory and history. I too don’t get people who hold onto “glory days”. Movies when people hold onto high school years or a past love as the best time – just don’t get it. Make the change, love your life now.
I’ve been sad and had hard times. But the pain of loss is part of life. Whilst if things are not as I like, no point dwelling in past good times, make new good times.
I do, however, regale my offspring with tales of my younger life. Tough to be them. My prerogative as a mother! I am soon to hit 50s and love the freedom but think I will have my offspring at home for much longer. They have it too good!
I have been through a lot of changes and tough times and have always come out the other side OK. So I can’t say I’ve loved every decade or every minute, but time has erased a lot, and I hope I’ve learned from the rest. I don’t want to be a bitter person who bears a grudge. Know too many of those. I try to come up with a good mix of being-in-the-present and planning for the future (but not obsessively).
That was such a poignant moment with Tony in Seven Up, but every time I’ve seen it I feel a catch in the throat that he relived that moment so intensely that nothing else quite seems able to compare.
I turned 45 last week and was wondering if 25-35 were the ‘glory days’ for me (the ‘pre-kids’ era, fun and frivolity in our twenties.) But then I started thinking, “But 35-45 – the years of having a child in the house for us – that really was THE best time, the glory days.”
Each era is a different kind of glory days. I hope 45-55 will be a new time, with less of the intensity of young children and more time to return to our independent adult interests.
I like to reminisce but hopefully with a feeling of satisfaction and fulfillment, not with a feeling that the past has cheated the present out of its time in the sun.
(And now I’m just stuck in a loop in my head, singing the song!)
Erm…what song? 🙂 Let’s see, when I was 45, Link was 14. I really loved the their teen years especially 13-16. Lots of drama but so much competence and independence, too! And being able to share interests more like a friend (albeit a friend with the deciding vote on most things, LOL!) My early 40s were a bit weird because of dating as a mature adult; I don’t miss that (plus knowing my ways were being scrutinized by a teenager, ack!) I’m finding now that Link has been away from home for a while, that I’m thinking more about my teen years and early 20s, and comparing them less to what Link was doing at the same age. That is a good thing.
Happy birthday, Fiona.
Totally agree. In fact it is still true for me now at 67. Retired, still in good health, time to do the things I want or nothing. But I am closer to the fraile years so doing nothing is not a good idea if I want to push back on aging some. But a great post.
Thanks, Elaine. Hoping I will be the same as you at the same age!
“Right now it is a strange blend of presence and absence.” I love this quote. You may have meant this a little differently, but often times, we go along with the flow and are not present in our own lives.
Thanks; that is so true!
I don’t think that’s sad. I try to live each year the best I can, and I hope when I’m older I can do the same. I sometimes get comments that I’m wasting the best years of my life being a mom and that I should have waited, but I don’t see how I can’t enjoy my life later on. 20s are what television is all about but I’m excited for all of life…not just a portion.
I think you’re smart. There is such pressure to do everything when you’re young and can supposedly enjoy it more when you are “unencumbered.” But I found unencumbered life kind of hollow and happily filled it up with responsibilities. Yes, it is possible to have fun when you are over 30 or you have kids!
What a great post! I just told a friend the other day, “you couldn’t pay me to be in my 20’s again!” LOL I’m in my mid-thirties and am enjoying it. I have come to terms with my family and working to be more of myself and finding freedom in both! I actually look forward to years ahead simply from the thought that I’ve come so far these last few years, if the next few are as good, it’s going to just keep getting better! I have a ton of medical challenges but like you, I’ve come through hard time OK, not bitter. I don’t want to be bitter. Bitter ages a person, it wears on me and it’s exhausting. Thanks for reminding me of the brighter side! 🙂
Thanks! Despite occasion awful situations, it doesn’t make for an awful life – they are transitory. I always feel like I am making progress at seeing life more clearly and going with the flow.
I read somewhere, that some researchers did a survey where they asked people of all ages – if they could choose one age and stay that age forever, what would it be, the winner was 50 – which really surprised the researchers asking the questions. I guess they assumed everyone would want to be 25 forever or something. But I have to agree. My life is soooo much easier and better than it’s ever been (even though I just turned 48).
I wonder what the average age was of the people who were asked – seniors, I assume? Makes me curious, if you asked groups of 30 year olds or 40 year olds what their favourite age was/is, what they would say? I am enjoying being decades removed from more troubling times!
Actually, I think it was people ages 18-90. Here’s a link if you’re curious:
Even into my early 30’s I’m already noticing that I don’t think about my childhood/past as much as I did to. Or at least not in the context of a scapegoat or blame or anything like that. I’ve had well over a decade to grow beyond my upbringing (and I have!) so thinking about my parent’s choices doesn’t come up as often as it used to. I agree with you that it is freeing, it is a relief. It’s like realizing that this is my own life and I really am responsible for my own happiness.
I think it makes a difference, too, whether you live near parents and extended family, or have them in your life. I’m sorry you dealt with the loss of a parent this year.
I hadn’t thought about it, but I imagine that memories are stronger when we are young as our brains are more elastic and are still forging new connections? I imagine that each time a ‘first’ happens our brains adapt to hold the new information we have just learned or felt and as such the memory is more enduring. I can also imagine that as we get older and various diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia ravage us those memories and those connections are that much stronger and are last to leave us?
I think that really is how it works. In mid-life, most people do more repetitive things and they don’t stand out so strongly. But new experiences (like a dream vacation) are just as important and memorable.
Oooh…also, maybe we should always continue to try new things to create stronger brains and memories? What do you think?
Agree – otherwise we could have decades that are all just a blur of ordinariness! (although sometimes that’s just fine)
Great post! I love how thoughtful are…they really make me think!
I’ll chalk it up to my nosiness, but I’ve always loved stories people tell about when they were growing up. It’s a great way to get to know someone. And people live such different lives and don’t even realize it!
Back to the topic at hand – thinking back, I’ve always enjoyed the age or stage I’ve been in (though I did wish middle school would move just a bit faster!). I’m still fairly young, so maybe I’m still just enjoying the newness of it all? Either way, I have a lot to be happy about 🙂
When I was a kid I was always surprised when I visited another family and their lifestyle or routines were so different from ours – it was an eye opener!
My ages 22-36 could have been a lot better because of relationship problems, but there were lots of good times and accomplishments too, so the good outweighs the bad.
I don’t recall a shining moment from my teen years. I’m not sure if I had any glory days. Is that sad? I don’t feel sad about it. I like revisiting the past. I enjoy the memories.
I think this time in my life at age 58 – I’m settled, content, happy. My hubby and I were both able to retire early. We’re doing fine financially. We have hobbies to keep us busy. Almost every day – my hubby says “Life is good!” He’s happy and content also. We’ve both had previous marriages. We’ve both lived through traumatic events. I think it made us more resilient. Hubby was a police officer for 30 years and experienced lots of trauma. I learned to think “This too, shall pass.” It always does. It’s a way of trusting that I’ll be able to deal with whatever comes my way.
I think these are my glory days! But – I’m looking forward to see what the rest of life will be like. I’m doing my best to get as healthy and physically fit so I can be around to enjoy it.
And – I’ve got the song in my head now too. (Glory Days by Bruce Springsteen).
Glory days well they’ll pass you by
Glory days in the wink of a young girl’s eye
Glory days, glory days
Lately I have been working with someone who has a prominent tattoo saying “This too shall pass.” I don’t know her well enough to ask questions (yet) but I did wonder if she was wishing each day to be over quickly, or if it was encouragement to get through a rough patch.
Policing for 30 years! I can’t imagine the trauma or the internal politics. I wish you both as peaceful a retirement as you could wish!
I do have some glory days from high school but I have always sought to eclipse them and not long for the past. I am much happier now!