old - oct 7th, 2013
When you’re young, it’s all about the struggle to get the things you want but do not have, the quest to find a way to put yourself into the life you envision. You focus on the acquisition of material things – of lifestyle: the right place to live, vehicles, relationships, having a job that supports your existence, vacations, travel, amassing experiences, fighting off the backlash of bad judgments and wrong turns. There are highs and lows, but it’s your ride and you make of it what you will, taking on each new challenge and change.
Through it all, you don’t really think too much about getting old. But years go by in the blink of an eye and then one day you look twice at that person staring back at you in the mirror and wonder who it is. It is a defining, disconcerting moment. You always knew life was a fixed period, but never considered what it would be like as it winds closer toward the eventual end.
Suddenly, there are new and different challenges.
Your body starts to show signs of wear and doesn’t respond the way it once did. Your senses – sight, hearing, smell, taste – lose their sharpness. Parts of your body begin to break down. Mysterious spots and bulges appear, clothes fit you differently. Though you know you need it, it’s hard to summon the energy for exercise. Visits to the doctor become more frequent, and you find out that most of the foods you enjoy are no longer good for you. Tasteless pills suddenly become a part of your diet. When you run into someone you knew back in the day, they look old to you. And indeed white hairs begin to take over your own head.
Your spark flickers, and you struggle to keep on an even emotional keel. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed, slip into resignation, and simply give up. It’s a difficult time, especially if you no longer have friends or spouse to keep reminding you of who you are – your essence.
Recently I spent a few days living in a Michigan retirement home with my mother-in-law to mark the celebration of her 94th birthday. We had a room right across from hers, and spent time with her doing the things she does, eating with her and the other residents in the communal dining room, breathing the air of quiet bewilderment and lonely longing. For them, getting in and out of bed is work. The focus shifts to the past, and stories and memories become touchstones that are strangely comforting.
That experience got me musing about all this. I’m not looking for answers or solutions. It is what it is.
Somehow, it’s up to each of us to find our own way of dealing.