Grace Under Fire
Early this afternoon I boarded a plane, the beginning of a week long annual stay with my sister friend. I followed the number/letter sequence and found an elderly woman attempting to get settled in the row my seat was in. She moved slowly and with deliberation. Suddenly my own mother flashed before my eyes, not elderly by any stretch of the imagination, but facing her own challenges in mobility and stamina. My mother has multiple sclerosis and the toll it's taking on her is becoming more and more apparent. It affects her spirits and I watch her fight to be able to maintain her independence. With my mother in mind I questioned whether I should offer to help this woman get her bag into the overhead compartment or patiently allow her to continue to struggle. I opted to help, hoping it wouldn't offend her or make her feel rushed. Her hearing was poor and I had to offer twice, her struggling all the while. I helped her with her bag and then waited for her to figure how to move to let me in so that I could claim my window seat. I watched as the traffic jam we caused grew, and wondered whether I should offer her my window seat, deciding ultimately that the aisle would be better for her in case she needed to get up.
Throughout the trip this grandmother required assistance that she never asked for. She looked like she'd grown accustomed to being treated like a nuisance and kept quiet through her needs. I helped her find her seatbelt and arm rest, open her miniature bag of pretzels, figure out how to turn off the air conditioning, and then removed her bag from overhead when we landed. She looked surprised every time I offered to assist, but by the end she thanked me when she leaned in and said, "This flight has been very quiet. I like when it's like that." I smiled and agreed. We parted ways and I was left thinking about this aging process and my own mortality. The death of Michael Jackson, his Home-going service in the same week that I lost my cousin [some years ago], and the heartbreaking attempts for my mother to reclaim the mobility she's losing has all made me question how I'm living my life. What will I leave behind?
Beyond that, I'm questioning whether I'll have the grace that I see others possess as my body starts its decline. It's already happening. In my late teens and twenties I could dance in 6 pieces without really being winded. I only glistened with the moisture of exerted energy. I could also eat what I wanted. Now, if I dance full out in more than 2 pieces it feels like my lungs are trying to squeeze through my esophagus. I have moved from perspiration to full on sweating, and certain foods make me sick like the flu or cause me gas. My 30's has brought me great mental and emotional clarity as my body reverts on me. I'm resisting it where I can, and bowing down in acceptance where there really is no choice.
As is the case with all of us as we age, my body's outward changes are evident as well. My body hasn't been ravaged by pregnancy but there is still a trail of years on it. My thighs don't show off the tight hamstrings of my days running track, breasts don't sit up quite the way they used to, and my six pack is most evident when I'm laying down. It is in the mirror that these changes are most evident, but for me it's deceptive. I still have the face of a child, with the experience of my years in my eyes and stance. The changes are noticeable on friends as well. Babies have changed the landscape on girlfriends, and beer and sitting have added hills and valleys on my male friends. It seems that we've all got breasts now, male and female, and it's really just NOT sexy. I made a bet some years ago, with someone I no longer call friend, that I would be sexy forever. I was in my 20's then, and told that I wouldn't be able to maintain til my 35th birthday. I'm 1 year off and I've still got teens trying to get my number. I haven't lost it, but it really isn't the same. I saw that ex-friend and he isn't preserving his sexy, but had to concede that he was wrong when he placed that bet. If I really cared about his opinion, I'd take his money. Since I don't, I'll just continue to work on this for myself because it's important. I still eat right and get moderate to plenty exercise because it makes me feel good and I appreciate the benefits. I don't have to make lifestyle changes in that regard but I know I'll have to step it up soon.
For now, I can't waste too much time wondering what will sag further or how many buckets of sweat I'll drip at the summer cookout. I just have to continue to stay upbeat and interested, and make sure that the quality of my life is high and not worry about the quantity of my years. This sharing with you is part of my journing, part of what I'll leave behind. These foot prints lead to an even greater path. I'm anxious to see where all this leads, but still taking care to enjoy the journey.
I only hope that when I start to reach my personal milestones, when I'm sharing my life's work, that it's in an air conditioned room because I would hate to sweat out my finery.
Watch me move.