Only as Old as You Feel?
It finally happened. It has taken long enough, but still, when it does happen, you can be taken by surprise. I’m not saying I was hanging around waiting for it to happen. I was sitting in a waiting room in early January, when the “old” man in a nearby seat asked me whether I’d had a nice holiday. “Yes,” I answered, “We had a quiet holiday—just my husband and me.”
“Don’t you have grandchildren?” There it was. The first time that anyone had asked whether I have grandchildren. Now, granted, I am old enough to have grandchildren, but I never thought that I looked grandmotherly. At least not in the way people have thought a grandmother looked. At least not enough for someone to so boldly ask. Actually, I don’t feel old enough to be grandmotherly. How does a grandmother feel? How does it feel to be old? When will I start feeling old?
I had the same problem when I turned 20. I was grown up—by age and size—but I didn’t “feel” any different or more grown up than I did at 18. I began reading any book that I could find that mentioned maturity and growing up. There was really no definitive answer in any of the books. I suppose I thought at some point around 20 or 21, I would suddenly feel different, older, a different type of responsible: in a word, grown up.
It’s the same thing now. How will I know I’m an old person, other than the date on my birth certificate? What does it mean to be old?
I remember my mother saying, when she was in her 70s, that she didn’t feel old. Did she have the same dilemma that I do? Also, she tried to convince her uncle, who was even older, to join the senior citizens’ group that she enjoyed, but he resisted, saying he didn’t want to hang out with old people.
I look around me and see people with gray hair, wrinkles, hunched backs, walking with canes, and I think they are old people when in reality some could be younger than I am.
I began writing this post some time back, then put it aside for several reasons. Life got messy and complicated in mid-February. On a Friday afternoon, Bruce called me. “How’s your day going?” he asked.
“Fine. How’s yours?” There was a bit of a pause then he said, “Not so good.” Pause. “I’m in the hospital here in Pittsburgh.”
And so he was. He had an erratic heartbeat. It would race and slow down then shoot right back up. The iron in his blood was almost undetectable. His heart had to work overtime to get oxygen to all the various parts of his body. Thankfully, he had no apparent heart damage. Six days, three units of blood, and several more infusions of iron (and every-other-daily-after-that iron pills), he came home.
Things were looking up until I went for a scheduled MRI of my spine. Degenerative disc, pressing on a nerve, which was causing sciatic pain that went all the way to the arch of my foot. Solution: Epidural injection. OUCH! I was not looking forward to the procedure, but I gamely went to keep my appointment. I didn’t get the injection. My blood pressure at 203/100 was way too high. It is still high. I’m old. My husband is old. Our friends are old. We have high blood pressure, arthritis, cancer, iron- poor (tired) blood, and other assorted maladies.
I looked at Bruce the other day and asked, “How did it happen?”
“You mean getting old?” Somehow, he knew without my explaining the question.
“Yes.” There is no really good answer to that question; he just shrugged.
Stevie Nicks sings a great song, “Landslide,” in which she sings about getting older and bolder.
Can the child within my heart rise above?
Can I sail through the changing ocean tides?
Can I handle the seasons of my life?
Maybe that is part of the answer, “Letting the child in our heart rise above.” Yes, I have health problems, and so do my friends and family. Yes, death is waiting for us all, but the child in my heart is very much alive. I love laughing and singing and loving.
Now I begin to understand my mother and her uncle. I think I can handle the seasons of my life.