In ancient Rome, candidates for office depended on a personal service provider more fabulously useful than a hair colorist, Pilates instructor or life coach. The job of a nomenclator was to recollect the names of people encountered by his boss and whisper the missing moniker in case the guy forgot.
I wanted one desperately when I started to experience that pesky intimation of mortality, failing to recall a familiar name. One day I opened my mouth to introduce a woman I’d worked with for 20 years and temporarily blanked out. On a solitary drive, I was unable to dredge up the words Keith Richards for many painful miles. I could retrieve reams of facts about the attractively battered Stone but not his name, which I know as well as I know . . . something I used to be able to remember! It came back to me, but the lapse was unsettling. Then chunks of long-held knowledge began escaping the storage vault. Farewell, times tables. Au revoir, irregular French verbs. Panique!
All my life, I’ve been vain about only two things: my lavishly thick curls and my archival-grade memory. Both were thinning alarmingly. So this was middle age—a series of small fades and fogs heralding a future of escalating loss. How long before I was wearing a tinfoil beanie and forgetting to feed my 23 cats? I felt as doomed as a character in a novel by Whats-hisname, the Russian guy. No, the other Russian guy.
Then, gradually, my mood and ’tude began to shift. I kept a tally of amnesia attacks and saw that I was compos mentis much more often than non. I was cheered to think that if I couldn’t summon needed info, my boyfriend Google certainly could. Or I’d call friends and family; we’ve got each other’s backs and frontal lobes. And the missing data did eventually return (though sometimes at inopportune moments—I don’t recommend shouting “Keith Richards!” in the throes of passion).
At this point, I was relaxed enough for revelation. I decided that instead of descending into an anxiety spiral, I’d consider mind slippages the signal for a mini meditation on cultivating patience and acceptance. In Buddhist cloisters, a bell rings at intervals throughout the day, a reminder to stop brooding on the past or worrying about the future and pay attention to the present. I began using each senior moment as a call to consciousness, a time to acknowledge the way things are. I pause, breathe deeply and try to release whatever is clenched in body, mind and soul. I resolve to accept change (the only constant in the cosmos, besides Betty White) with more grace than grudge. Finally, I tell myself that despite these processing glitches, most of the little gray cells are still sleek and swift, and the middle-aged mind remains a huge, bubbling cauldron of awesome.
Now I’m channeling the energy I once wasted on agitation into a scheme I hope will fund a lengthy and lucid golden age. I’ve invented an improved version of a popular game show. It’s called Aging Boomer Jeopardy. Contestants have up to six hours to press the buzzer. Sample question: “Pop Icons for $200.This rolling rocker had all his blood replaced and looks like an apple doll with an earring. In the form of a question, please.” Who is . . . damn! I’ve lost it again. Well, I have five hours and 59 minutes left. Plenty of time for a mini meditation or two, perhaps followed by a refreshing Bloody Whatshername.
Judith Stone is the author of When She Was White.
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