Something rather disturbing happened to me the other day for the first time. I went to my bookshelves, picked up a book and was then unsure whether I had read it or not. At the age of forty-four I certainly don’t like to think that I am becoming senile; and to try to prove to myself that I was not, I started to think back to earlier stages in my life and recall the details. The jury, I’m afraid, is still out.
Here I would like to propose two simple exercises which aim to keep one’s personal history recorded, at least in outline.
For books it is a chore, but a worthwhile one, to write a personally oriented review of each book which one has read or consulted a major part of. These reviews - along with the author, title, publisher and publishing date - can easily be kept in word or text documents on the computer. Of course if one re-consults the book at a later stage, further notes can always be added.
One’s own personal life is not so well compartmentalised. My own memory of the forty-four years I have spent on this earth is rapidly becoming muddled at the edges. We tend to remember either what we can’t help remembering or what we find convenient to remember, but the truthful timing or juxtaposition of events becomes confused. To counter this difficulty, I created a simple two-column table in a word file. The left column listed each year since my birth; the right-hand column was for entering in key personal events. These include: births and deaths of friends and relatives, beginnings and ends of personal relationships, schools and colleges started and left, dates of educational qualifications gained, beginnings and ends of employment, holiday destinations, etc. I found this surprisingly difficult to do with a certainty of accuracy, but the table is more than a record for the future because the very process of inserting events onto the table recalls memories and creates time juxtapositions which had been forgotten.
I certainly don’t want to suggest that dwelling on the past is the first priority of the present, but my atheistic temperament tells me that we are nothing more than the sum of things, moral or otherwise, that we have done – and if only for that reason they are worth remembering.