When you’re a kid you think you are invincible and the thought of “growing old” is not even in your consciousness. When I tell childhood stories I sometimes want to describe people as an “older person” but then I have to pause and think, “Everyone seemed much older than they probably were”. So, I really don’t know if my description is accurate. Who knows, they might have only been in their 30s or 40s, but to a child that is pretty old. But it ‘s funny how your definition of “old” changes as you rapidly approach the age you considered old. I remember being so depressed when I turned 26 because I had passed that magical number of 25, which meant that I was closer to 30 than 20. In my mind, 30 was officially a “real adult” and, although I was a mother already by 19, I still thought that I was a kid. But, when I passed 30, then 40 became the new “old age” for me. Each decade, I raise the bar on what it means to be “old.” Since when did 40 become “young?’ How about 50? To me that is now “young” or at least still “young.” How many times have I heard myself saying lately, “They’re not that old”, referring to someone in their 70s. The fact remains that the world is geared to youth and no matter how “young” you think you look, feel, or act, you are not young, and you are often treated as such. People say that age is just a number, and you can remain “young at heart”, be active, athletic, keep yourself in shape, but time is rapidly advancing, and it seems the older you get, the faster the years go by. I remember endless summers, being the playground champ, spinning tops, playing Skelly, melting bottle caps on manhole covers, eating Good Humor sold by old man Joe, the ever present ice cream man. Then, going home for dinner only to go out again in the evening. I was athletic and that was my life during those magical summer days and nights. It seems almost as if those days were just yesterday, and I sometimes wake up and think, “how the hell did I get to be this old and when did this happen?” I remember hearing about “the Golden Years” but I have recently found myself thinking that is such a fallacy. Often the “golden years” are fraught with age-related illnesses, even if you think you are healthy. With aging often comes a gradual betrayal of your body. There are exceptions, and I believe that if you keep yourself in good physical condition, taking care of what is so precious, you may skip the extreme decline. But the thing about life is that unless you have a crystal ball, or a link to God, you don’t know what the future holds. I am a firm believer that we should live NOW, and not look too far into the future. The media is famous for preaching about the evils of retiring too early (taking your Social Security too soon). I laugh when I see these dire warnings because I know from experience that life is very fragile and you should take your happiness now, if you can, rather than later because later may never come.
It is amazing that so many people take for granted being well and feeling well. There is nothing more humbling than having a debilitating illness or injury to bring you back to earth. I have been one of those athletic people who would look at someone struggling in the gym or out just walking slowly, without trying to understand that each person has a story. I have been struggling for many months with debilitating back pain and severe degenerated right knee. My back and knee pain was so bad that I would have to hobble from bed into the bathroom each morning, walking like I was 85. The constant, unrelenting pain and soreness also affected my state of mind, causing depression. It is so hard to look at the bright side of things when you are hurting over and over and life looks so bleak. It was so humbling and embarrassing on my trip to Guatemala. On the plane I would start to get anxious when we were about to land knowing that my back and knee would be so stiff that it would take a while for me to unbend. Getting up and carrying my luggage out of the plane was torture. I always thought of myself as this physically fit specimen and now I felt like a cripple, limping down the aisle. Things that I used to take for granted, like climbing down the steps of the airplane (in Augusta for some reason you have to climb down these stupid steep steps to get off the plane) caused me so much anxiety—being so afraid that I would fall or need assistance. When you are physically well, things like that don’t even occur to you. Now things that were never issues were now major concerns. Once in Guatemala, I was in constant pain, living on Ibuprofen. It prevented me from going on walking tours and, coupled with me being lonely, I was miserable. When I went on a tour to Panajachel I had to constantly climb in and out of the boat that ferried us from village to village on Lake Atitlan and that was pure torture. Once if it had not been for two guys holding me, I would have collapsed, due to my knee totally buckling under me. Back in the States, it did not get any better and I have since had knee surgery (much more extensive than I thought it would be) and have also had epidural steroid injections to my back. I want to travel now, but I was unable to plan for anything due to the constant uncertainty of my physical condition. Whenever there is a life altering event, whether it be a loss of a job, illness, death, divorce, you always look for a reason. The thing is that I feel there are no coincidences in God’s world and it may not be revealed until years later or weeks, you do not know. I am slowly starting to feel better but being so debilitated gave me real empathy for others. When I see people hobbling slowly across the street I know that there is a story behind it. I have a friend who suffers from MS and is on disability. She is estranged from her family who is totally unsupportive, yet she still perseveres. Another woman I went to school with just finished battling stage 4 uterine cancer, having gone through hell with chemotherapy, major surgery, colostomy, and having to rely on others since she lives alone. Then I look at myself and realize that maybe it is not that bad. Of course, when you are feeling better it is easy to look back and say it was not so bad. I am still having problems with numbness in my body, but maybe this is God’s lesson for me; be grateful for each day that you feel well and don’t take it for granted. It has given me a better understanding of other’s problems and pain, physically and mentally. Nobody has a perfect life, although sometimes it seems that some people do on the outside. It has also given me more of an incentive to change my life because I can appreciate that there are no guarantees that you will be around tomorrow or even later in the day. We take for granted that we have an infinite amount of time to achieve that elusive happiness and that is not true. My friend Janet is now in France with her husband, one among many trips they take. They are living now, not putting off what may never happen if they waited. Being so ill has put a time frame to my plans. I know that I absolutely cannot continue to live a life doing what I don’t want to do. I ask myself sometimes, “when are you most happy.” The answer always comes back, “when I am not at work.” It is time for me to move on to the next phase of my life. I am so consumed with making money due to my upbringing (compulsive gambler dad) when money went flying out the window and life was insecure, that now it is my main focus. Yes, money does buy things I like, but continuing doing what I don’t want to do is killing me over and over. One day I will wake up and it will be my last day on earth and I will die never having taken the big risks and living a life of my dreams and how sad is that?