It Takes a Village
My husband blew a disk.
At 65, he’s not had a single major medical issue in over 35 years so this was a surprise, and a painful and unwelcome one, at that.
I, on the other hand, have been the poster person for replacement parts, unwelcome but required surgeries and the attendant care they entailed for the better part of our 20 years together.
I stand humbled (or stooped and crook-backed but still humbled) at the amount of tending a human being actually needs in order to remain human. My appreciation for my husband has ballooned into sheer adoration at what he has done for me, again, and then again, ad infinitum, with never a complaint or whine to be heard though he must surely have held some resentment somewhere for the physically flawed carcass he chose to cohabit with.
But more than outright awe, this experience has really started me thinking about age, infirmity, diminishment, and time. There must be an Einstein-like equation that confers a value on the ratio between just how much energy must be expended proportionate to a specific age and, carrying that to the next extension, each specific infirmity that will strike us all as we dodder into our coming golden years.
Just managing trash, cleaning, grocery shopping and daily maintenance, not to mention cleaning the refrigerator, sweeping up the walkways, walking the dog and handling the mail even become Herculean efforts as we age and our energies ebb like the relentless tides. But the tides have a renewable source of energy readily available to them from the deep well of the ever churning oceans. We humans have a finite pool to draw from and as our minds and, most poignantly, our bodies, use up this reserve that we once thought boundless and infinite, we are faced with our limitations and it’s a face we don’t want to look at, in the mirror, or in the reflected image of ourselves as ever increasingly passé and passed over “older” folk.
It’s no wonder the adages like “growing old ain’t for sissies” are so common a theme amongst the AARP armada. We feel it in our core (and our bones, frankly, which, to add insult to injury (sic), betray us with ever increasing frequency and ferocity) and like the core of an apple left too long in the cold storage bin, we sense the rot even before piercing the skin with a paring knife. Instead of the Sweet Smell of Success that vaulted us forward in our youth, we begin to get a whiff of the sweat smell of decay.
But what of our options? Where lies the “choice” we humans have been taught to value so highly as members of our Great Society?
Yes, we have our Medicare, our Aging Services, our Senior Centers. We even have glimmers of Universal Healthcare thanks to a more humanity-centric governmental outlook of late, a consequence of an ever-more-elderly voting block I might add, and that might eventually add some layers of outward Ben Gay-like salve for the aches and pains of aging but it does not address the inward emotional tumble that we are all heading for like the inevitability of that first huge drop of a roller coaster after that long, long, slog up the jigging cog ladder on that initial big hill it climbs.
And like that roller coaster ride, after the first thrilling free fall off the mountain, every successive hill we climb, while easier at first to summit because of the momentum we have built on our dizzying descent, it is less high, less thrilling, and overall just…less…as we know we are nearing the end of the ride and, as such, becomes somehow harder even though we are continually thrust forward by our own momentum. We are on an downward oscillating bell curve that diminishes with every successive speed bump.
So what to do in the face of this reality? We, the Me Generation come of age. Our plans to change the world are crashing on the rocky shores that all preceding generation’s dreams have met with, in the end. Reality bites, or, as Dr. Phil might drawl; “How’s THAT workin’ out fer ya?”
Are we better off than any of our predecessors? How would we know?
We might undertake a study of the literature and poetry of the great thinkers, writers and ponderers of times past and try and suss out their thoughts on these continuums of human existence.
We might examine data and pour over the vast quantities of quantified fact that are now part of our collective storehouse of intellect and intelligence and try and perceive patterns in the pasts of those who traveled this road before us.
Or we might simply pause, a concept almost foreign to our perpetual-motion-machine concept of living in this, our new age, and breathe.
Draw a picture, watch a bird alight on the feeder, examine a sunrise, really listen to a friend, take up yoga, put down our thoughts on paper, a thousand little things we can still do, many with a patience and excellence of execution we glossed over in the feverish haste of youth, not realizing there was such pleasure in smaller accomplishments as we dove for the bigger thrill rides along the way.
Such is the nature of living a long life.
But in the end, be grateful. To the village, the idiots and, yes, the spouse.
Grateful that we have this gift of time to actually sort, examine, and maybe even resolve some age-defying questions. So many of our friends and fellow travelers did not get that opportunity at all. We remember them more and more now as we live longer than they ever did themselves.
And first and foremost, be grateful for those we have in our lives; spouses, partners, friends, and family that will sympathize, commiserate, cajole and most of all….care. Care that we are safe, care that we are sad, care that we are content and cared for. Care that we, simply…….are.