According to the sage advice administered by the late Uri Michaeli, whose remedial exercise studio in downtown Jerusalem I attended regularly for about fifteen years, there are two tried and tested precepts for staving off the mental deterioration that accompanies old age: learn something new all the time, and keep ‘a place for everything and everything in its place.’ The first adage serves to keep the brain active and flexible, forming new connections between the grey cells, while the second will prevent one wasting an inordinate amount of time looking for one’s keys, mobile phone, or whatever the current necessity of life may be.
Oh, how true! I only wish I had enough grey cells to remember and adhere to those two concepts all the time. I do try to keep learning something new all, or most, of the time — I attend lectures on various subjects, keep up my study of French and German, try to keep abreast of current events, even make the supreme effort to read the economic section of the newspaper and follow the vicissitudes of the various financial crises that beset our world from time to time. As for the second adage, it’s all well and good to keep intending to adhere to it, but it’s sometimes easier said than done.
I must confess that I have lost more objects — some of them even quite valuable — in the course of my life than I care to remember. Keys, jewellery, items of clothing, bags, etc. have all gone the way of all flesh, and I don’t even remember where, when, or how. But that, I suppose, is in the nature of losing things. I have occasionally also found things. I once found a NIS 100 note on the pavement near a cash point. I looked around for the person who might have lost it but there was no one in sight, so I kept it. I’m sure I put it to good use at the time. I do occasionally find a coin of insignificant value lying on the ground, and am not averse to picking it up and adopting it for my own use. But the overall balance seems not to be in my favour, and I have definitely lost more things than I have found.
Uri Michaeli’s adage struck me with renewed intensity a few days ago, when I was unable to find my watch one morning. Each evening I take it off, together with my rings, and put them on the designated shelf in my bedroom. Each morning, when I get up, one of my first actions is to put the watch and rings back on. On the day when I realised my watch wasn’t on my wrist I was suddenly paralysed. I was unable to go down to the basement to start my exercise regime, I was unable to go to my study to check my e-mails, I was obliged to start searching the house, hunting high and low, to try and find my watch. Yes, I know I have a spare watch, but that wasn’t the point. I remembered putting my watch on in the morning, but it was no longer on my wrist. That could mean only that somehow it had slipped off during the course of the morning. I retraced my steps, checking the floor, the carpet, every available surface, but it wasn’t anywhere to be found. I checked all the places where I generally put my watch when I do cooking or wash dishes, as I had the previous evening. But there was nothing there.
Eventually, after alerting my poor, long-suffering husband to the gravity of the situation, I finally gave up, dug out my spare watch, and resigned myself to the inevitability of my loss. I decided it was time to get on with my life. It was too late to start my daily exercises, so I decided to get dressed and start the day. As I donned my trousers (pants to anyone in America) I put my hand in my pocket and found a strange, hard object there resting among the used tissues which are always to be found there. Yes, it was my watch. That is not its place. I never put my watch in my pocket! But there it was. I must have put it there the previous evening in a fit of absent-mindedness when I was working in the kitchen.
So how to explain my ‘clear memory’ of having put the watch on earlier that morning? Obviously, a trick of the mind, a memory lapse, or another grey cell gone to perdition. Obviously, it hadn’t happened. Or at least not on that particular day.
So from now on I’m going to try and keep to Uri’s valuable lesson. That way, at least, I won’t waste half my life hunting for the things I need in order to manage my life in a reasonable fashion. At any rate, I hope so.