I recently arrived at my 48th year on this planet. With a good bit of luck, I can make it to 2050. Thirty five years. It’s as far away from me now as 2015 was when I was 12 years old.
In 1980, people wore jeans, t-shirts and runners. They had colour TVs, digital watches and Tupperware. Star Wars was already a thing. The big difference, of course, was computerisation and mobile technology, but even so, there was a familiarity about those times. In the same way, 2050 may not be too foreign to modern sensibilities when it eventually arrives. We are well on our way to this future date.
By now, it should be obligatory for me to tell you that the years fly by too quickly, and that I remember the 1980s like they happened yesterday. But honestly, it was a long time ago. I was a child back then. I can’t lay claim to that title anymore, however hard I have tried to delay the onset of adulthood.
I think this feeling of ‘tempus fugit’ is something of a delusion. Life doesn’t fly by as fast as we think it does. Days might whizz by, but there are a few hundred of them in each year. It’s a lot of time. 10 years is a whole heap of time and 30 years practically an eternity. It’s just that our brains make the past seem so much closer than it really is.
I’m pretty sure that this sense of time passing by quickly is a function of a memory system that best remembers the things we remember the most. Music, particularly the most popular tunes, seem recent only because we hear them often. So too with places visited regularly, like my mother’s home, or local schools and shopping centres. We recall distant events there clearly only because we are minded to remember them quite often. The gap in time is shortened only because we frequently remember the memory, not the event itself.
Maybe it’s where I am now in my life. With my children now passing into teenagehood, I seem to remember their earlier years as a transient blur. But in reality, I don’t think it was quite so speedy. There was plenty enough time there for my father to fall sick and pass away; for my marriage to crash-land and for a while, chaos to take the place of security. It’s just that I have forgotten so much. Perhaps that’s the real tragedy of ageing: so many experiences have been scattered to the four winds. What remains now are bare threads.
Life is long. It’s long enough for us to make big mistakes and to recover from them. It’s long enough to breach the surface after diving the depths of despair. It’s long enough to see green shoots where once there was bare earth. Even in middle-age, there is still time to find peace; to make life more livable for those around us; perhaps to yet follow our dreams.
Despite the awfulness of forgetting, maybe there is more time there than we normally appreciate. And in that, I think, there is hope.