This excerpt is from the February, 2022 issue of The Sun Magazine by James Hillman entitled: "Memory, Short-Term Loss, Long Term Gain."
Surely one of the remarkable feats of the older mind is its ability to divide memory into two sorts: long-term and short-term. As the first improves, the latter dwindles. While you can bring back the dresses of your girlhood friends of seventy years ago, you can’t find the glasses that you set down “somewhere, this very minute.”
Could this division have some wisdom in it? Could the mind be refusing to take in new stuff so that images of long ago and far away can rise up in strength and freshness? It may be annoying to you and infuriating to others that you let the kettle boil away, mislay your keys, forget your great-nephew’s name, but is character built of kettles and keys and the names of little boys? . . .
Geriatric psychology finds that older people spend more and more time taking stock, doing their “life review.” This is a work of recovery not from the past but of the past, a work of research — a “recherche du temps perdu,” as Proust called his massive, exquisite treatise on remembering. If past time is not to be lost time, one must give it presence. Therefore, new events come in only when they tie in with old ones. You travel to a foreign city and find yourself talking about another place it reminds you of; you meet a younger relative, and notice only the traits of her mother and aunts, who attended your wedding; you are served a special dish, only to tell how you used to make it. It is not the taste of the new dish or the face of the new relative that matters; only that they prompt old memories.
I observe this phenomenon often in my older clients. They are depressed over their short term memory loss and their lack of interest in current activities going on around them. They often complain about being in a "muddle."
I get asking them about their past and they come alive and brighten up. I share with them how valuable their experiences are and what they have learned from life. I tease them about writing their autobiography. They seem pleased but demure. Then we talk about their "psychological legacy" and I suggest they write down the ten most important things they have learned about life that they want their successors to know to save them time and pain and suffering.
Few actually do this but they seem pleased to have been asked and in subsequent meetings their depression gradually lifts. They attribute their improved well being to the anti-depressant their PCP prescribed. I know better.