Several years ago I felt quite pleased with myself for overcoming a sensitivity to annoying noises. I decided it must be from having children around. Like getting allergy shots, all the exposure made me immune. It sounded logical but then I started to get irritated with the opposite problem. Why did my children have to turn the TV volume so low? It was ridiculous and yet they kept doing it.
When I was in my mid 40’s, I was at a small indoor concert in winter, feeling very warm, while all those around me hadn’t bothered to shed sweaters and jackets. The concert was well underway before it occurred to me that the others must be reasonable people (after all, it was bluegrass music) and so maybe, just maybe, the odd person out was me. Having my first hot flash was almost as bad as being told I needed bifocals, when I remember thinking, “Tell me I’m going blind but, dear God, not this!”
I now accept that my hearing isn’t that great and try to find humor in my odd interpretations of what is really said, though I seem to be the only one in the family laughing. It also comes in handy, as in, “You told me this morning I need to drive you and Winona to the mall after school? I’m sorry, but I didn’t hear that and now I’ve made other plans.” In all fairness to myself, I try not to take advantage of this and many more times than not (call it selective hearing if you want), I really didn’t catch what was said.
Aside from the hearing loss, there are the knees that hurt and the heartburn and the test results that show bone loss. And with each new sign of aging there is at first shock. We know it happens but we don’t expect it yet. All this leads to what I call “late middle-aged” crisis (“elderly” should apply to only those past 90 and “mature” unfortunately doesn’t work for all the over 60’s). If mid-life crisis is about frustration and disappointment at where one is at 40, this later crisis is more about a grieving process. It’s the recognition that there are things you always dreamed about that really aren’t going to happen—as in really aren’t going to happen. At 40, the likelihood that I would gallop a pinto pony over the hills of Kansas was very remote but still, one never knows, right? Now the idea of falling and breaking a bone becomes much more of a real possibility, and I have to recognize that it’s not to be. And the loss of that dream I have had since childhood goes deep. Very deep.
We of a certain age are told to compensate these losses by enjoying “the little things”, which my 101 year old uncle, once a missionary in Africa, certainly knows how to do. He is still able to write a very coherent longhand letter. In the most recent one, the words a bit wobbly since his stroke, he states, “I still enjoy the good food Krista prepares for me each day and I seem to have adjusted to the medicine I take for a daily bowel movement, for which I praise the Lord.”
One can laugh at this—I certainly did—but it doesn’t mean my Uncle John’s life is only about such things or that it no longer has meaning. He certainly still affects my life by his thoughtful and detailed letters. I send a small check when I write back, telling him to buy a treat. He always lets me know what he bought (usually ice cream) and I am touched by this communication. Like all of us, at any age, he has a story to tell. And it’s important to listen.
What is not funny is the way so many things just aren’t easy. If I have to conduct business on-line I steel myself for a hike in blood pressure and hope the dogs are outside when I throw whatever is handy across the room. I don’t know why my smart phone keeps telling me I have “important” upgrades which apparently aren’t important at all, and I pray that at some point in a call about a health insurance claim I can get a real person to talk to me. Aside from feeling outdated by all this, there’s a sense of being pushed to a state of decline before we want it, even if well intentioned. Rose, at 14, associates the name Via Christi with a nursing home where we visited an elderly woman (yes, in her 90’s) and where her middle school choir sang holiday carols. She didn’t know it is also the name of other health services, one of which sent me a notice about needing to schedule an appointment. She saw it, open on the kitchen table with the letter head showing, looked at me, and quite sincerely said, “Oh, Mom, congratulations! You’ve been accepted into Via Christi!”
I have recently added closed captions to some of the shows I watch and figure it can’t hurt my reading skills. My children seem to be more tolerant of my need for repetition, though is there really any good reason for them to mumble? I don’t know what tomorrow will bring. I won’t be bungee jumping (though bless those, like a friend’s aunt, who celebrated her 80th birthday by getting a tattoo and skydiving), but I do expect my life to continue to have adventures and challenges and all those emotions that make us know we are alive. Fortunately, life doesn’t end with the final goodbye to Flicka. And I think I can still hear her whinnying as she gallops off.
My Uncle John as a young man and then in his late 90’s. Below is his father on a dairy run. John helped on the farm and later delivered milk in Kansas City by truck. He was known to be rather wild behind the wheel. This is a just a part of his story.