Does it bring you joy?

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With one of my literacy teachers (the tall one) and three of her students.

I recently realized that life in my 70s has a guiding question that could have come straight from Marie Kondo, the tidy-up guru, though I have never watched a single one of her TV shows or videos and my house still retains pockets of clutter.

In fact, I apply the question, “Does it bring you joy?”, more to my life as a whole than to my dwelling and possessions, though I make sporadic efforts to apply it there, too. I use it to tidy up my life, so to speak, to focus on the things I really want to do.

It has not been an easy question for me to answer. One reason that it guides me now is that my answers to it have evolved over the years and shown up in surprising ways that I would not have guessed in earlier times. Continue reading

Body, body

Right here, right now, a light dusting of snow brightens the gray day. I am conscious of not having written in forever but I am trying not to let that flummox me. My fingers seem a little stiff, like my knees. Oh my knees. My knee. I have used it as an excuse to slack off everything. I don’t mean to judge myself; that is just the term that comes to mind. Slack. Slacking. Slacker.

This morning I woke at 4:30, restless and uncomfortable. The discomfort grew to the point where I was thinking about getting up and taking a bath, my almost nightly remedy for vague achiness. I was too tired even to do that, let alone get up for the day. I am so focused on my body, which is one big reason I haven’t written a blog since August. It’s been body, body, body.

It started with a little skin cancer on the back of my hand and then a special dental procedure and then all the preparations for knee replacement surgery, including getting rid of an infection, which involved a questionable succession of antibiotics. And then the surgery itself, on September 17, which went well by all accounts, and the rehab, which also went well, but I am still extremely focused on my body and its imperfections and the continuing recovery process. I’m not there yet.

On the one hand it is good that I am retired and don’t have to be fully functional in a day job. On the other hand it might help to have something to distract me from awareness of aches and pains and low energy levels. I do power through when I have something else to focus on. Like lots of family time, starting with a trip we took with the family to a destination six hours north, just two weeks after surgery. But wow, I did suffer some. And then a succession of visits and celebrations including Thanksgiving and Christmas. Each time I have been brought up against my limits. Standing and cooking is hard on me. Being with the kids is daunting; much as I enjoy them I can’t handle them alone. I need days of recovery after each experience.

One of the biggest problems has been sleep. I got off pain medication pretty quickly because I didn’t like the side effects and the pain wasn’t bad enough to risk opioid addiction, God forbid. But I’ve been left with vague and sometimes sharp, tingly discomfort that is worse at night. After experimenting the doctors and I found a medication that at a low dose gives me at least five hours of uninterrupted sleep and often more. Getting to sleep is still hard and sometimes, like this morning, I wake up at 3 or 4, all antsy. Then I get up and walk off the jittery discomfort or take a hot bath and then maybe go to sleep for a few more hours. Every night of decent rest seems like a small victory. I would like to get off the medication (gabapentin), which is not addictive, but I am still dependent on it (there’s a difference, I think). I have tried going without it a few times and have had miserable nights.

In these past months I also edited a long memoir for a friend and I have played a role in Advent worship planning and leading. So I haven’t totally been lounging around. I have entertained a number of times, even if it is just making the main dish. I’ve kept the house cleaned and the laundry done and my husband and myself fed. If you go by outward appearances I am fully functional, maybe even back to normal. Other people see me say yes to most invitations, activities, and requests and walking at a normal pace, unassisted. They do not see my hesitation to commit to any activity that might involve walking more than a mile, total, or standing around for half an hour. They don’t see me shun the shopping mall, relying on meal kits to minimize grocery shopping, taking sleep meds, or rationing my trips up and down stairs, turning sideways coming down so it doesn’t hurt so much. Or if they do, or if I complain about these limitations, they may think my expectations, at age 74, three and a half months after knee replacement, are a bit high.

But with this last birthday, a month and a half ago, I was aware of how much older I feel than I did a year ago. This is what the knee injury (last spring) and surgery have precipitated: the inescapable awareness of aging. I feel older. Gravity pulls harder. It takes effort to feign energy and good cheer when I am just tired. Many days it is just too much work to push my physical limits as much as I should, continuing the painful stretches, getting out and walking. Will walking ever again be a joy and not a chore? Fortunately, I guess, sitting for too long is also uncomfortable. So I get up and move. It helps to have a destination, like a local bar called the Hideaway that has a great Moscow Mule.IMG_2549

I have no regrets about the surgery because I really had no choice. The knee wasn’t all that painful but it was unstable, not functioning properly. Now it is stable and functioning better, if not yet perfectly. I trust it will improve but I know that I have to keep working it.

The sun peeked through for a moment. I should get out and walk to the river and back. Maybe after lunch.

 

 

 

Exercise

I used to breeze by the exercise classes for seniors on my way to an intermediate yoga class or the swimming pool or the resistance trainers. Silver Sneakers, ha. I’d never be one of those oldsters doing their exercise sitting down, at least not for a long time.

This was not so long ago. Before the wrist pain made Downward Dog impossible and yoga less enjoyable. Continue reading

Perennial

Perennials-that-love-shadeElder, senior, aging, older, old. I want to be honest about where I am in life. I am, unapologetically, 73 years old. But I don’t really identify with any of these words.

“Elder” implies entitlement to authority and status that I may or may not have. “Senior” is a euphemism for “old” and I don’t go for euphemisms. I’m certainly “aging”–but isn’t everybody? And “old” is how I feel sometimes but I’ve tried calling myself old and it makes me–and others–uncomfortable.

Language matters, as Laura Carstensen writes in a recent op-ed in the Washington Post, “In Search of a Word that Won’t Offend ‘Old’ People.” Continue reading

Real flowers

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The flowers I arranged for an altar last weekend are kind of a mess today because they are just about to go. The glads are exploding in bloom to their very tips but, lower on the stalks, which are finding it harder to stay upright, the first blooms have already shriveled and dropped. The sunflower petals, crisp and smooth a few days ago, are twisting and falling. The goldenrod is dusted with its own pollen and drooping at the tips. Continue reading

Thrush and little green chickens

It is the first morning of Wood Thrush song, so loud and close I don’t recognize it at first. The flute-like whistles sound shrieky up close, but up close you can also hear the quiet churrs and burbles that follow the whistles. It is stunning. I sit on the porch and start to write but I can’t write while that is going on.

As I write that I can’t write, the song stops and then takes up again much farther off, as if the thrush is respecting my territory. Continue reading