On a recent lunch outing, we had to wait 45 minutes for a table at a popular restaurant. My legs were killing me. My wife and a friend suggested they get me a chair. “No, that’s okay. I’m fine.” After a half hour, they stopped suggesting; they got a chair and insisted I sit down. I protested once more, and then I sat down. Ahhhhhhhh…
I have a dilemma. Due to bad knees, bad back, recent hip replacement, and 50 years of tennis, I’m frequently in some pain and need to sit down. But I don’t want to be that guy who always needs to sit down. That guy someone always needs to take care of. So what do I do? I quietly make everyone uncomfortable with a painful look on my face, and constantly shifting weight on my feet.
It’s tough for people around me. When I resist their help, they think I’m not appreciative, which is not the case. The fact is I’m much more comfortable giving assistance than receiving assistance. Is that because of my innate selflessness? Not hardly. Selfless is not my middle name.
I equate needing help – a wheel chair in the airport, for example – with being vulnerable. And vulnerability sucks, even more than a bum leg. This old guy sees vulnerability as a one-way street. A slippery slope.
Heavy, huh? I warned you that I’d be writing some heavy shit in this blog.
When I was young, I remember helping old people: grandparents, aunts and uncles, people at church in wheel chairs. We kids helped them, we gave them our chair, we took their arm, no questions asked. It’s what young folks do when old folks need help.
I became middle aged, and it was my parents who needed help: arthritis, weight gain, hearing loss, withdrawal, slower thought processes. We who used to be their children became their parents, and helped manage their lives.
This is not breaking news. We all know where we’re going. We’re just not sure when we’ll arrive.
There’s another memory from my youth: I’ve always loved parties. In grade school, it was birthday parties. In junior high, it was parties with girls. In high school, parties with girls and beer. In college: girls, beer, and intellectual discussions about Vietnam, civil rights, God, and the meaning of life. I was never the first one to leave those parties. I was more than likely the last one.
So, back to standing in line for 45 minutes, and realizing I need a chair. I see things like that as signs that I’m becoming those old people I used to help. When I experience these things, it feels like the first steps toward leaving the party early. The fat lady’s standing up, getting ready to sing.
Okay, I’ve crossed the morbid metaphor line. Sorry about that. Let me bring it back.
The fact is, this party’s nowhere close to over. I know that. I’ve got more high school reunions to go to. I just have to change some things. Attitude, for example.
When I had trouble reading, I got glasses. (My new glasses make me look hot. I get cat calls as I walk past the assisted living facility.) Trouble hearing? I got hearing aids. (They don’t make me look hot.)
Trouble walking and standing? I need to fix that, too. But I can’t just buy something for it; I have to do some stuff.
Stuff I’ve never enjoyed doing: stretching, exercising, walking, physical therapy, pushing myself, working out. Sweating. Tennis included all of those bad things, but tennis provided the rush of nailing a passing shot as your opponent charged the net.
And there’s the rub. I have to learn to expend the energy, without experiencing an immediate high. That will take an attitude adjustment, but I can do it. Might even work my way back to the tennis court.
And while it looks like that fat lady is standing up, getting ready to sing, I’m not at all worried. She’ll sit right back down. I can tell her legs are killing her.