When one is old, as I am, one learns to remain silent on certain things, except when in the company of close friends of a similar age.
One’s physical complaints, of course, are never to be mentioned, or only in a mildly joking manner. One often lives with constant pain, certainly with discomfort, in one or more joints or sinews, or perhaps in an organ or two, most of the time masked by one’s wonderful brain which commands, “carry on.”
An old person’s musings about: “yes, that also happened to me when I was younger, and this is what I learned…” evokes glassy eyes and body language signaling a yearning for escape. And, of course, the younger ones are right: experience is the master teacher, along with pain and suffering.
Recently, I have been musing, mostly silently to be sure, about the vast store of knowledge and experience I have accumulated and remember during the four score years since before the United States entered World War Two.
I met a man a few evenings ago, the husband of a writing colleague—a charming, engaging, and accomplished fellow. Our conversation was wide-ranging, chronologically, geographically, and philosophically, a real treat for me (and my poor hearing required my interlocutor to work hard for me to understand him in the noisy room). At one point in the conversation, he realized that I was much older than I originally appeared to him (a family trait) and interjected to remark that I must have been present or aware of certain well-known historical events. Yes, I was, and briefly gave details of a few.
This pleasant experience remains with me to savor for a while. But the rarity of such an experience reminds me that I and my cohort have knowledge, or at least information, largely untapped, which will expire with us.
I feel that the main motivation for my writing is to leave a record, necessarily incomplete, of what I have seen and learned, at least as interpreted through my biases and prejudices.
I remind myself of “The Diary of Samuel Pepys,” which was more fully appreciated by later generations and stands currently as a valuable historical document.
My musings observations are not as important as those of Pepys, but I fancy (the word is based in the concept of fantasy) that there will be at least some minor value, perhaps entertainment, to people in later generations if they are made generally available (which, thanks to the Internet, already are). In addition, if they survive and are made available after I achieve room temperature, I have retained decades of correspondence with friends and family, both in digital and hard copy form. (Oh, yes, I am obsessive about certain things).
How full of myself I am to think, or at least hope, that my scribblings have and will retain value. As the wisdom contained in the Book of Ecclesiastes tells us:
“What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”
Scholars may learn from history, but it seems the rest of us do not. My father tried to impart to me what he had learned, which was much, and I did listen and record what he said. Nonetheless, I had to live a full life, making my mistakes, to fully understand what he was trying to help me learn and avoid in life.
Thanks for trying, Dad.