Let Us Hear the Conclusion of the Whole Matter

Posted by on May 8, 2007 in Father in law, Great grandmother | 0 comments

I have been told I have a keen analytical mind, but I never really took to the bean counting aspects of programming, even though I have an IT degree and grade point average that states otherwise. Taking a leap based on insufficient information and actually solving the problem in half the time would be my strength. A number of years ago my husband and son went to the computer to labor over the reason why my father in law’s files seemed to have disappeared. I sat down and talked to him while they worked.

“Pop” I asked, “What did you name the last chapter of your book.”

“Memoirs” came the reply.

“…and what about the chapter before” I speculated, sensing I might be on to something. Sure enough, ”memoirs” was the next word out of his mouth. I told the men in the other room to stop, and then I explained to Pop in very simple terms how files work. The light dawned at last when I told him that if he had a file cabinet, and he put everything in one folder, he would have trouble locating the bit he needed again. It was a big “Aha” moment for him. The men hovering over the screen were astounded. They knew so much about how computers work that they assumed the problem would be found in the machine. My analysis started at the most likely flaw in the process, the human who was operating a machine he considered an advanced typewriter.

An intelligent man, Pop was born in 1914 when the newest technology included the telephone, wireless telegraph, x-ray, cinema, bicycle, automobile, and the airplane. Earth shaking stuff, but all things that he could touch and feel. The innovations of today are below the surface, subtle, and full of mystery for those born in at the dawn of the First World War. We settled on a easy and understandable file naming system, chapter 1, chapter 2, chapter 3, etc, and the men recovered as much of the big book as possible. Pop eventually finished the text, a considerably stylized and romanticized version of his life, and presented to us as a Christmas present some years later. Of all the members of his family. I am the only one who actually read it, because I still find the human mind more intriguing than any electronic one.

I am not one of those people always looking back to a simpler era. I embrace changes eagerly, am delighted with the newest gadget, and intrigued with innovations that are on the horizon. I am hopeful this will keep my mind keen, and that as technology advances I will continue to be able to grasp the concepts and revel in the changes. Time travel, a consistent theme in our literary traditions even before the modern technological era, often addresses the confusion of a brain unprepared for new knowledge. In truth we are all time travelers, moving at an increasingly faster pace toward a world that threatens to become incomprehensible. My husband’s grandmother was born in 1891, and lived to age 94. She had a third grade education, more than many women of her era, but woefully inadequate for the circle into which she moved in her adult life. She sent all her children to college, entertained the “best” people in her home in Durham, NC, and had a native intelligence and cunning that I found amazing. Thinking to help her with her accounts, I brought a calculator one weekend and attempted to explain to her how it operated. This bright lively woman had no more grasp of the function or use of the device than a cave man. I took it back home sadly, realizing it would be no more than a paperweight for her desk while she ciphered painstakingly with her yellow pencil.

I have a horror not of growing older in body, but growing older in my mental attitude. I have been making a study of this lately and find that there is far more information available on keeping the body healthy than for keeping the brain at its prime. With the information that I have found, and my own analytical mind, I have come up with theories on how to slow the ravages of time. First, and most importantly is attitude, the belief that the brain may change, but does not have to lose its edge. That is supported by a number of studies. 

Next I will trot out that familiar litany that the things we do to keep the body healthy also serve to keep the mind sharp. Sorry folks, but daily exercise and a sensible diet are right up there at the top of the list of things sharp older people say are essential. Because you don’t want your six pack attached to a vacuous stare, you must also exercise your brain. Reading, writing, and playing games that provide a challenge all seem to keep mental facilities sharp, but whatever you do don’t stop exercising your imagination. Perhaps I should have put this one at the top of the list; don’t take life too seriously. What does it matter if we live to 100 if we find no joy in the living? A day without laughter is a wasted day, and it is rare that life is so grim we cannot find ourselves at least chuckling at the cosmic joke that is humanity.

My last bit of advice is to keep a wide circle of friends of all ages. In the retirement home where they live, my in laws are surrounded almost exclusively by people age 70 and older. The life they have there would be my worst nightmare. To be only with people who have the same mind set as your own soon makes one think that that is the only world view possible. They have nothing to talk about except their health and that has become the focus of their life. A conversation with them starts with the recent death report and ends with what Pop used to jokingly call “an organ recital”, as in, my heart, my lungs, my liver etc. That brings me around again to the reason for this post. I think the preacher said it best in Ecclesiastes, my favorite book of the Bible. Forgive me God if I paraphrase slightly; If a man lives many years, let him rejoice in them all…and whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your strength, for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, where you are going. Live long and prosper. That last bit would have been in the Bible if the preacher had thought of it, and hadn’t been in such a black mood when he wrote. It also goes a long way toward proving he was wrong when he said “there is nothing new under the sun”.

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