It is interesting to be taking a course in memory at the same time that many my age are supposed to be losing it.
When I decided to return to college at 60, most of my friends had two reactions: "I wish I could go back and enjoy it more this time," closely followed by, "I could never memorize all those facts and figures anymore." Well I can say that while it is not necessarily better this time around -- why aren't those cute guys looking back at me? -- it is remarkably reassuring.
Being forced to read, absorb, and recall reams of information -- from when Monet painted what to those damn Articles of Confederation -- can't help but improve one's confidence. While I frequently need to go down the alphabet to retrieve the name of that actor who starred in that movie -- or worse, that person across the table -- I can do this! My means of memorization may be mneumonically dependent, but hey, I didn't even know what 'mneumonic' meant until I returned to school.
Right now, one of my classes, perhaps somewhat ironically, is entitled "World War Two and Memory." It is not about the battles or the heroic narratives, per se, but how those who participated in "the last good war" have chosen to remember it -- or not. For almost all the others in the class, this is distant history, of course: that of their grandparents, mostly. For me, it is the history of my father's generation, though words like revisionism, selective amnesia and denial are very much part of mine.
The class has not only challenged my mind, it has opened it. (Who says the Boomer demographic can't be swayed or influenced?) I have come to understand -- if not agree with --the fact that Germany and Japan found ways to consider themselves 'victims.' I have found new rage upon learning that hundreds of thousands of women were brutalized beyond belief (look up "comfort women") and I once again realized the horror of all wars. It is hard to read, "Germans today are arguing less from the moral certainty of having been victims, than from the fear of becoming perpetrators again," without thinking of a seemingly normal American soldier wandering into an Afghan village and murdering sixteen civilians.
There are so many things that amaze me as I rejoin university life after 40 gap years. I am in awe of the intelligence around me that I know I did not have at that age. I am envious of my colleagues' ability to cram so much information in and hold it there longer than I am able to. But then I remind myself how much other information I already have stored, and take pride in my ability to make room for the new. For them, it may be choosing what to remember, for me it is more about letting go of what it is okay to forget.
I don't necessarily urge everyone over 50 to return to the land of midterms and term papers. But I can attest to the fact that we are capable of staying, and even excelling, in class.