Thursday, June 6, 2013

Contemplating My Mortality...

They say getting old ain't for chickens, and the older I get the more I appreciate the wisdom of that statement. It's something everybody does but I think that only when you get to a certain point in your life do you really stop and think about it and what it means to be getting older.

At age five, getting older means next year you'll get out of kindergarten and into a real school. Age 12? Next year you'll be a teenager. Sixteen is a driver's license, 18 is usually high school graduation and perhaps off to college, 21 is voting and lots of other stuff. Thirty seems like the edge of beyond at that age, but when 30 comes there's the sudden realization that oh, brother, you're starting to get to the age that when, as a six-year-old, you considered "old". Forty? Even worse. Midlife crisis time, possibly menopause, seeing how your parents and sometimes even your peers are aging and realizing that they're watching the same things happen to you. Fifty? Time for an AARP card and the beginning of senior discounts at restaurants, hotels, even barber shops and hairdressers. Sixty? By now there are aches and pains that weren't there just a few years ago and your doctors are starting to give you supplements and medications for various things that are starting to act up -- or not work as the case may be. Sixty-five?  Retirement? Most today can't afford to do that, so it's more pills to try to counteract the natural progression of things wearing out. If you're fortunate enough to still have your parents you're becoming more and more aware of how their time is flying by and that each day becomes more precious because they are growing fewer and fewer in numbers. Beyond 65, you're still able to enjoy a lot of the things you used to, but it might take longer to play that eighteen holes of golf or it is harder to keep up with the grandkids like you used to do with your kids. You start to reflect a little more on your own mortality and you probably look at the people around you and wonder, "Am I going to end up like that?" "Do I look like that?" "Is this really all there is?"

Don't get me wrong, there are advantages to getting older. You're usually a little more willing to sit and think about things than you were at 21. You probably have a little more patience with little ones than you had at 30. You see kids rushing to grow up and become "adult" before they really even know what being an adult is about. You probably did the same things and made a lot of the same mistakes you'd like to keep your grandkids from making, but, being kids, they might think you're just being an old fogey even though they love you.  You have more time to read some of those books you've always been wanting to read or maybe start taking piano or painting lessons like you always wanted to do. You have time to do volunteer work at the hospital or the homeless shelter or even the church thrift shop and you enjoy it because it gets you out of the house and interacting with not just old friends but new people you've never met before. Funny thing, most folks I know who have retired usually say they're busier now than they were when they were working and raising their families.

Just because you get older doesn't mean life gets easier. Your pension might not provide you with the financial wherewithal to live the same lifestyle you lived when you were working full time. Trips to the doctor for checkups comes more and more frequently and you keep adding new doctors' names and phone numbers (and addresses, if you're getting as forgetful as I am) to your address book. Parts of your body that have worked perfectly well for the last five or six or seven decades suddenly start having problems and some of them require rather radical life changes to compensate for their failures. You get the nagging feeling something is wrong but it isn't always what you expect that it is. You keep getting these little messages that remind you how transient life is and how fast time is flying. It's like you're paying for sins you don't even remember committing -- like eating too many burgers and pizzas over the years or drinking all those six packs on an almost daily basis. It was fun while you were doing it but now your glucose level or your arteries or your liver tells you that there are always consequences.

You used to laugh at those Viagara and Depends jokes but now you try tucking your box of Depends under the other groceries in your basket and hope nobody you know sees you with them. That little piece of concrete on the sidewalk where you walk every day one day seems to jump up about a foot and you trip over it. If you're lucky, you just get a bad bruise or a scrape and you laugh at yourself for being so clumsy. It could be worse, you think, you could have broken a hip. Then one day in your kitchen you trip over the cat or you just plain put a foot wrong and down you go -- with a broken hip. What happens when your kids tell you that you've just told them the exact same story or anecdote three times in a row -- in the space of 10 minutes?  You find you have to write a note to yourself  remember to bring home milk, bread and eggs from the store when you used to be able to remember at least 10 items you needed just off the top of your head and yet when you get to the store you find you forgot to bring the note. The old jokes about losing your car keys suddenly aren't as funny because you've lost yours twice this week -- and at least once they've been in your purse or have fallen on the floor next to the front door. It's almost laughable when someone twenty years your junior asks how you are and when you tell them, they reply with "Oh, I know JUST how you feel because..."  Yes, they have to deal with their own pain and it is probably the worst in the world simply because they have to deal with it and I don't, but by the same token, I have to deal with mine and they don't, so saying they know how I feel is really rather presumptuous. Then I remember --- I've been guilty of that same presumption myself.  I'm finding, though, that as I get older, I'm less inclined to compare my stuff to someone else's simply because the disease or the circumstances is/are similar.

One thing that happens when you get older is that eventually you die. It's part of the natural progression just like parts wearing out on your car or the dog can't get around any more and has to be put down. I think about it now and again, wondering how it's going to happen and when, but I know it is going to happen, whether it will be how I imagine it (or even hope it will be) or not. I sort of get a kick out of people who go on about the joys of heaven and how they're looking forward to going there to see their friends and loved ones who have already passed over -- but who want to take every possible treatment or procedure to make sure that doesn't happen any time soon. They want to be with Jesus but aren't in any hurry to get to that meeting. Maybe it's perversity, but I just find it amusing to put so much thought into getting to heaven and so little into making the world a bit more like heaven right here and right now and  not just for me but for other people who maybe aren't as well off or lucky or healthy. I think that if I have any fear about death at all it is a fear of having to live in intolerable pain for a long period of time or perhaps not knowing that I'm living a long time with a brain that doesn't allow me to live in the present but only in fragments of the past and with a loss of cognition of the faces of people I've known and loved for years.

What brought all this cogitation on is the news that yet another friend has received a diagnosis that nobody wants to get. Whether they're 30 or 100, it makes me think more about my own life and mortality as I try to be a friend and support to them and those close to them. I'm old enough now to know that everybody is different and no two people will react the same way to the same situation most of the time. Oh, some of the reaction will be predictable but never with 100% certainty that it all will be. I'm not being maudlin, just thinking about stuff and choosing to work through it in my head as I put it down on paper (or pixels).

Maybe I should go to the gym Saturday morning instead of sitting at my computer? Maybe I should get up a little earlier and walk a little further in the morning before work just for my health's sake?  Maybe I should start cleaning out stuff I've accumulated but which I really don't use or need (although as soon as I get rid of something you watch, I'll need it within two weeks and have to go buy another one!)? Maybe I should just stop thinking and start doing something instead. I ain't dead yet -- even if I am a day or even a few hours closer to it than I was when I started this blather. There are dishes in the sink waiting for me. I'd hate to go with dirty dishes left lying around.

I just wish I liked doing dishes more. Or mowing the floors or washing windows or cleaning the bathroom or eating more vegetables. I guess I'm one of those who really is looking forward to meeting Jesus face to face --- just not too soon.

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