Monday, April 25, 2011

Why Are We Here? Who Are You?

Regular walking, I've read somewhere, enlarges the hippocampus, the part of the brain that controls short-term memory. Short-term memory is one of the first casualties of approaching geezerhood. Still, most people I know who are losing their STM couldn't care less if only a just and merciful god had seen fit either to put their hippocampus in control of other functions they find more important and enjoyable, or to allow that brisk walking might enlarge some humbler part. Memory loss has been the bane of the aged and the grist for more jokes than adultery, unless you consider those jokes that combine the two conceits (as in the one about the old priest who only remembers where he left his bicycle when, reciting the decalog for his flock, the seventh commandment proves the mnemonic key.)

"Oh, and here's my chasuble!"

Years back, when I was yet of an age to mock the forgetful, I was called to an elderly woman's house to inspect an antique bookcase she had advertised for sale. She answered the door and seemed nonplussed when I explained why I had come. After elaborate explanation and patient repetition, her old ganglions (ganglia?) sparked intermittently, fired, and off we went. She recalled placing the ad, recalled the item so advertised, and led me into another room to look it over. After I'd inspected it, she suddenly remembered another piece in yet another room she thought might interest me, abruptly chugged off in that direction with me in tow, halted in the doorway, looked beseechingly at me and asked, "Why are we in here?"

The question bore such existential cargo; I knew the moment would become eternity and none like it would ever again present itself; my baser self triumphed, I took the bait, the words came out: "You mean in general?" 

"Are we here - or peut-etre over there?"

But I was young - well, probably not yet 40, which seems young now. And generally my memory is good. I can find the car keys, never misplace my glasses . . . 

Here they are

. . . unfailingly remember the name of my helpmeet, my daughter-in-law's birthday, generally know the year of our Lord without checking my cell phone, and the name of every member of Congress who voted to dismantle Medicare.

So my short-term memory has not been a matter of concern to me - not, that is, until today. I did not, myself, forget anything at all, but inevitability was made manifest, and in this wise: having the health and happiness of my hippocampus ever present in my frontal cortex (try that, you young whippersnappers), I set out on my bicycle for a regular constitutional, meaning to raise the pulse, elevate the blood into the relevant parts, modulate the breathing and replenish the stock of beneficial serotonins which make me the sanguine, optimistic and unfailingly cheery spirit you all know.

So setting out this blustery gray spring day, I stopped at an intersection and met a friend (younger than I am by several years) striding vigorously along the sidewalk in a pair of shorts and a T-shirt, cheeks rosy, obviously in the middle of his own daily exertions. But it wasn't exactly a day on which anyone over, say 45, would willingly venture out in light gym clothes, and damp ones at that. I asked him where he was headed. "Home to get my bike," he answered. 

The poor chap. He'd walked the mile and a half to the downtown YMCA, changed into the garb I met him in, did his workout, returned to his locker to dress for the walk home, and could not to save his soul remember the combination to the very padlock he had opened an hour before.

I did not laugh. I seem to remember that I commiserated. I'm certain I must have.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, that's a *great* picture of you! That does it: anyone who posts a picture of Ernest on his blog is my friend for life!!