Specifically, I’ve been thinking a lot about why my feelings regarding them are so conflicted. As best I can figure, it’s because I look at them and see … me. Eventually. Maybe. I mean, you never know how the universal powers that be are going to allow things to play out.
For a year and a bit, I had a small, part-time job that required me to set up the kitchen in a residence for the elderly and disabled, serve the folks the lunch that had been trucked in from a different site, then clean up. I could not wait to dump that job.
Unfortunately, I didn’t really get to do it on my terms; I did it on that of the feds – they only let you make so much in outside income on disability, which I now collect. But while I didn’t have a chance to say a formal goodbye to too many of the folks, I’d become so familiar with, I did leave with a truckload of memories.
One of the things I learned is that apparently, for every candle on the cake, your personality regresses. I mediated a ton of arguments between 70-something people that resembled nothing so much as kindergarteners fighting over the purple crayon. “How come he got two peaches and I only got one? You treat him better because he volunteers.” (Right. He volunteered for two minutes a day and apparently that was worth an extra peach half.) “So-and-so takes too much milk.” “I told you I wanted leftovers.” “Well, you know when the driver comes back. You should have come to see me before then.” “I was too busy gossiping.”
At the gym, it’s even more obvious, the slowing that the candles on the cake bring. There’s one exception – an 82-year-old water aerobics instructor who can outwork the entire class. But I’ve recently taken up running, and I really don’t like it on the treadmill, and I’m not ready, because of balance issues, to give it a stab outdoors yet. So I do a mile around the track. Usually. Unless I get stuck behind the 87-year-old granny plugged into her iPod nano, doing .00000003 miles an hour.
Don’t get me wrong; I think it’s amazing that at 87, she can still even try to walk for exercise. My own mother is 83 and can’t come close to that. And I understand that you’re supposed to respect age and wisdom (not that the two always go together), and I do. But when they won’t make way per gym etiquette, and I’m forced practically to jog in place behind them because the track isn’t wide enough to breeze past them; it’s annoying.
So anyway, I’ve been trying to figure out why it’s annoying. It’s not just that I’m in a hurry, I’ve decided. It’s because I’m closer to 50 than 20, and I’ve been working hard to get healthy (for the first time in my life, really) – and someday, maybe, I’m going to be one of them. And that terrifies me.
I see the folks with walkers and canes and wheelchairs and scooters. I have to shout for the deaf ones and tell the blind ones what to expect. I have to routinely have my heart broken by the one with dementia who can no longer spell her own name properly, so that every day on the signup sheet for lunch, it’s a different variant.
None of that interests me for myself. I don’t want to lose my independence, or my sight, or my hearing, or the use of my legs or, most especially, have my mind turn to mush. And I’m pretty sure when they were in their late 40s, as I am, these folks weren’t interested in that either. But it happened anyway.
I’m not looking forward to it. But I understand it a little better. And I hope whatever young pup is taking care of me when I’m 80 and blind and deaf and demented gets it, too. As Bette Davis put it: Old age ain’t for sissies.
About the Author
Candy Czernicki is a veteran newspaper and magazine journalist who currently serves as managing editor of PsychCentral. She has published articles in the quarterly journal Recovering the Self. When she’s not writing or editing, she usually can be found hanging out with Sweetie the cat. Her latest silly idea involves trying to get in shape enough to run a 5K with her 20-something niece, Katie.