Updated: July 3, 2013 6:18AM
A few years ago I drove past a farmhouse near the place of my birth and saw an old man sitting on his porch as the sun was close to going wherever it goes at the end of the day.
This man seemed old to me — I was barely a youngish 70. I wondered what he was thinking about, or if he were dozing and dreaming.
Now, when I have reached a more mature age, I sit on my porch a lot, watching the birds, admiring the flowers and yes, thinking about being old. I have been old for quite a spell, so I should have it figured out by now. One thing I like about it: the older we get the more memories we can call up.
Memories are not stored in a neat sequence. They just hang around, waiting to be called up. Drawing on memories can help us put the pieces of our lives together — life is a kind of puzzle, and we sometimes can’t find every little piece, but working on it is fun.
As we age, there is a risk that reality will gradually slip away. That is scary, and that is what an old fellow named Sal felt. I read about him in a story by John Lescroart. He was sad and a bit angry. He began to write down the names of everyone he had known, and left hundreds of names and addresses on scraps of paper.
His son explains: “It was everybody he knew. He did not want to forget, and he thought if he wrote it all down…”
There is a lesson in that story. I often write about places and people I knew when my life was young, about childhood, personal stuff. I am trying hard not to forget.
I suspect that we all recall and review our stops along life’s way. It helps us remember who we are and why.
Cold winter nights, eating popcorn “watching“ radio with my parents. A neighbor girl who died from scarlet fever. The college prof who assigned a book in his Social Anthropology class that lit a candle in the darkness of my ignorance about human differences. Our wedding day. Happy times. Sad times.
All of us have private memories, health food for our aging souls. Putting the pieces together is a healthful exercise. That girl Mary in the eighth grade — I forget her face, but I never forget a pretty name.
Old Sal scribbled furiously, thinking that if he wrote it all down — everybody and everything from the beginning — maybe he could retrieve it when he needed it. Maybe his life would not all go away.
Sal is a fictitious character, but is he really fictitious?
There is another fellow I think about as the years race by. His name is Morrie, a character in a movie a few years ago.
He began to worry about being alone, being insignificant. He felt like a little wave in a big ocean. Then it came to him — he was part of a big ocean, but he was surrounded by other little waves. They were all in it together, each had a role. He no longer felt alone, but part of a big production.
There is a lesson in Morrie’s worry and his subsequent discovery. We cannot comprehend the vastness of the ocean we call life, or exactly what our roles are. But our little wave is essential. We are not alone.
P.S.: If you scribble my name on your list, I won’t care if you spell it wrong.