Joan Chittister writes in her fascinating book on aging, “The Gift of Years”: “There is nothing in conscious memory that is unimportant. To sit and listen to a person wander through the storied fragments of their lives is to come to know what worries them, what delights them, what love did to them, what rejection dampened in them and what is left to deal with now if the press of past failures, the loss of past loves are ever to be stitched into a healthy whole in the here and now.”
As people age, one of the “first things to go” seems to be memory. I spent a while going through the alphabet on Saturday to remember the name of a person I had worked with in the past and, for some reason when I saw her out shopping for geraniums, I couldn’t remember her name. I don’t think she remembered mine either, but we really had a lovely chat in the moment.
Memories are much more than names and dates and places. Memories become the stuff we weave the meaning of our life from. The bits and pieces we hear in listening to a person with compromised memory may not be linear, but they are important and deserve to be honored just the same. The author writes, “Because of memory life is not simply one isolated act after another. It all fits into the image of self and the goals of the heart.”
Listening for the image of self and goals of the heart may be the best gift we can ever give to another person of any age. If we know what we are about, this type of listening can honor the powers of the mind to make meaning and find hope and joy in the messy business of everyday living.