Looking back on our lives — and looking forward as well

By Jack Keenan, Contributing Writer

Throughout our lifetimes, most of us have had the privilege of speaking with an elderly person — perhaps even a veteran of Vietnam, Korea or World War II. Those stories we have heard from them over the years, I’m sure, are too numerous for us to recall, but many of these seniors, in particular the veterans, have an uncanny ability to remember life as it was when they were young.

No matter what our ages might be, looking back on our lives is a very common human behavior. Both good memories and bad can come to mind in certain moments. But the things we find of interest in both past and present are the things we tend to talk about with others. When the elderly convey a story, they often speak of the past like small pieces of a puzzle — events, experiences,  thoughts, or feelings — that, when put together, create an image of their lives. As the stories are told, the wisdom and experience that come from age lend a further insightful perspective to the pictures they create for the listener.

Recently, an elderly gentleman I have come to know told me a story which I had heard from him before. This time, however, I heard it differently. The details were the same, but the look in his eyes and tone of his voice told a story almost as great as his words. Maybe it was a longing to return to that time — the time of his youth — perhaps to do things better or, at the very least, differently. I’m certain we all have those moments that we’ll remember fondly, even if those moments seemed relatively insignificant at the time.

Upon returning home, I reflected on the time spent with my elderly friend and tried to put myself in his shoes. I have most certainly lived more years than I have years left in my future. I tried to picture what I will be doing at 80 years of age, with as much history behind me as my elderly friend.  Will I be independent? If not, what will my circumstances be? Do I try to plan for unseen circumstances, or do I just forget about it and leave it in someone else’s hands, when that time comes?

We all have instances when we look back on our lives, but do we give much thought to the future — the “well-beyond retired” future? What will you be doing? Will you still be independent? Perhaps we shouldn’t only be looking back on our lives. Maybe we should be looking forward as well.