Sunday, April 17, 2011
I listen through ear buds to a portable radio in my pocket during the days I work. Only I can hear and it helps the hours pass. It's allowed, for I have a job that depends more on muscle memory than brain function. The downside is every half hour they do a five minute news and then the insanity of our world intrudes.
One day this week the lead story was, "Elderly Man Accosted and beaten in Parking Lot". The details of this particular insanity began, "A seventy-year old man was..."
"Elderly...seventy-year old man," I find it hard to consider a seventy-year old elderly. For all intent and purpose, I am a seventy-year old man. That milestone is too close now to ignore. This will be a year of milestones, actually. I will turn seventy, my marriage will celebrate the golden anniversary (50 years) and it will be exactly a decade since The Bank threw me out of my job for being too old. Still, I don't think of myself as (shutter) elderly.
Being old is half a matter of perspective. If you think you are old, you will become old in mind and spirit. Granted, once upon a time I did see seventy as ancient. I knew my mother's grandparents well as a small boy. They seemed very decrepit to my childish mind, something out of history long past. They reminded me of the couple in Grant Wood's "American Gothic".
The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away." Yes, that isn't Shakespeare, but a quote from the Bible, Psalm 90 verse 10. Many times I heard threescore and ten quoted as the allotted life span of a man or woman.
My maternal grandparents (pictured left the year they both passed) seemed to follow suit. I wonder now, does the Little Woman and I now look as antique in our children's eyes?
I don't feel like I am fixin' to die soon. It is perspective. My father and mother are 92 and 90. I don't think old, I think youthful.
As I said, if you think old you become old in mind and spirit. You dwell on being deadwood then the stiffer you grow and soon you are just a brittle and dried shell of life.
But I said perspective is half the matter. The other half is reality. You may wish to deny it, but the truth is your body is old and growing older. I believe in keeping a youthful mind and working on the fitness of its physical plant, but I can't deny the aches afflicting my knees constantly or that I'll never play center field again. I can't lift what once I could. I do not hear as well. I am certainly not as pretty.
As much as thinking old can make you old, thinking young doesn't necessarily make you young. It just doesn't work that way. You can cover up the wrinkles, nip and tuck away the droops if you're so inclined, but gravity and time will still have its way with you. You just have to learn your limits.
You know how I keep fit. I'm a walker. I like to walk out in the woods, not in the malls. I see old people walking the malls although many are no older than I. I have no desire to circle there, but I suppose I am seeing my fate some time in the future. But until that time, I will traipse the trails.
Still, though, I am learning the limits of what my body withstands when my minds demands otherwise. So it was the other morning as I was walking down the main trail into Brandywine Creek State Park. I have explored most of the paths there and many are fairly rugged and climb high up the Piedmonts. I get slightly out of puff sometimes on the steeper ways, but it hasn't caused me problems, other than perhaps a short pause to catch my wind.
As you enter on the broad Northern Delaware Greenway the Brandywine gurgles along to your left and to your right is a high tree-covered foothill. I have been atop this ridge, having gone up a trail that is an offshoot from Rocky Run. Now however, as I trod along I take notice of a trail straight up the side of this escarpment.
I kind of ogle it from the side of my eye as I pass. Then I stop and wander back, stand and stare. "How bad can it be?" I wondered. "Look, look, you can get a foot hold on those exposed tree roots, like climbing up a stairs." Except these stares disappeared a third way up and turned to a trough of packed earth and occasional stone. For much of the way the trees grew too wide apart to even grasp from on the track.
Two-thirds up I was straining for breath. I stepped aside behind a small tree for a moment, allowing it to hold me there while I sucked in air. Then I stumbled on, leaning far over toward the earth fighting the pull to tumble backward. Not only was I gasping, but I began to feel an odd roiling in my midsection, as if parts of me were rolling over somehow. It was a most unpleasant feeling.
I had no choice for I was committed now to making the top or falling down. At least, I though, if I fall here it will be to the main trail and someone will find my broken body. Although, I also had visions of mountain bikers using me as a challenge ramp to conquer.
At last I crested the rim and was on relatively level ground atop the plateau. Still that odd tumble in my midsection continued and then these pains began across my chest. Oh my, was this a heart attack beginning? Had I climbed too close to heaven that God was calling me further? I slowly walked around a bit and the pains subsided and the roiling stopped.
I paused briefly to admire the view down to the main trail and the creek beyond and then went to the more gradual climb down to Rocky Run.
The walk was out of me. I felt drained and had no desire to go out any trail. I went to my car and home. I was weary the rest of the day, but I had learned a limit my body demanded. It was no longer equipped for such straight up battles against gravity, even if in my mind I had thought it was.