I have been going through some fairly harsh self-agism lately. The aging process seems to me to be brutal. One moment one is strong and flexible and the aches and pains of over-work are manageable and expected. The wrinkles are starting to come but they are still mostly interesting and the skin, although it is losing its suppleness, is still skin-like, tight enough to keep everything where it should be, for the most part, still doing okay in the battle with gravity. And the brain is almost as it always was, clicking away and mostly coming up with the right word at the right time, the right name for the right face, and if you sometimes walk into a room and forget what you have come there for...well, it's all right. You've always done that occasionally.
But then it seems that overnight (although it is not), it's all gone to hell. The pains are constant and affect the way you walk and are able to get down and up. The face becomes something you do not recognize, unless it is to see your mother in it. The skin is thin and bleeds at a touch, it seems and the elasticity is gone, shot, kaput. You look at your arms and you do not see your arms. You see the arms of an old person, lumpy and weird and thick in places they never were before. Fingers become crooked and knobby, knuckles suddenly become bigger.
And the brain seems to lose words faster than you can search for them and you find yourself going to do a task only to discover you had already completed it fifteen minutes ago or else something entirely different robs you of your focus and you head off on another task before you ever get to the first one.
It may not be this way for everyone but I think eventually, most of us will know how this feels.
Today when I was in the library, there was a very refined, dignified looking older man, dressed as neatly and nattily as you can imagine and he had a walking stick and suddenly, he had taken a tumble, and was on the ground.
It was one of those moments where you hesitate in your actions, not because you don't want to help but because you want so badly to spare the dignity of the one who has suddenly found himself laying on the carpeted floor between the audio books and the new fiction arrivals.
Of course I stayed. "Are you all right?" I asked. And I knew that I had asked that too quickly. It takes a moment to figure that out.
Does this work? Am I bleeding? Does anything feel broken?
"I think I am," he said, but he did not sound sure. I picked up a few things he'd been holding and which he'd dropped when he fell and he began the laborious process of trying to pull himself upright again. He held on to a shelf and I held on to his arm, his so-carefully ironed sleeve between my hand and his skin.
Another man appeared. He, too, was older.
"Can I help?" he asked, but the man who had fallen was already standing again.
"Good thing you have that cane!" the second man said. "They can be a lifesaver. I fell once and didn't have my cane and I couldn't get up."
After it was established that all was relatively well I looked carefully at the man who had fallen.
"Getting older is so hard, isn't it?" I asked. "And it seems to happen so quickly and somehow, I never thought it would."
"All you can do is keep on the best you can," he said, pulling himself back into dignity. He said these words with no false cheer. They were not a bit of parroted advice, meant to smooth it all over with senior citizen bullshitty stiff-upper-lippedness. The words were the simple truth.
And I keep thinking of him tonight, hoping that he is not in pain from his tumble. Hoping that he is getting along the best he can, whatever that may be. I am thinking of all of us and how, no matter how strong we are, no matter how sure-footed and fleet, no matter how well we dance or how easily we rise from the floor in one fluid movement without even using our hands, no matter how beautiful or firm we are, no matter that our vision is like eagles', our hearing like hawks', no matter how well we can follow a thought to its teased-out conclusion, no matter our education or our race or our gender or our diet, eventually, nature will have its way with us and these things will change.
I am writing these thoughts tonight not to be depressing or sad but to simply say that this is the way of it for most of us, should we live long enough. That even our very dignity can be taken away from us and it is not fair but life rarely is, and we just keep on the best we can and hopefully find reason to keep on doing that with as brave and humorous a heart as we can.
And keep reaching out to help others as they hopefully will reach out to help us.