Saturday, November 19, 2016
A PIECE OF GOODBYE
Well, I don’t want to get maudlin about this. I’ve already lived longer than anyone in my immediate family ever had. And, I’m told that for a person of my age I’m in pretty good shape. That’s nice, but….since the only measure of comparison I have is for the person I was all those years ago, all I can say is, “thanks, but no thanks!....... Pretty good shape?” How come I hurt so much? What is the measure of ‘pretty good?’
O.K., of course I recognize that statistically, the very fact that I’m still vertical and (usually) somewhat cognizant of my surroundings, and that a goodly number of my vintage are either no longer with us, or if they are, many can no longer walk unaided, or live from day to day without assistance. Worse, (and I see this with some of my daily human contacts,) don’t remember who they are or where they live. That’s the scariest scenario I can think of, and I do think of it every time I have a momentary memory lapse for names of friends and everyday objects.
There are so many things that I can no longer do, or do only with extreme effort. Many of those things I am able to simply shrug off. Some were fragments of this stew we call life…the salt or other seasoning which, while an enhancement to that stew, their removal still leaves one with a pretty good meal.
Learning to live with the aches and pains of age, while difficult, is easiest accomplished in familiar surroundings. One learns to adapt and accommodate in ones own home, where every room, every corner, every nook and cranny have been permanently imbedded into the person’s brain. If I wind up kneeling or sitting on the floor in my own home, I pre plan it so that I will be near some chair or other appurtenance to grab onto to help arise.
Recently my wife and I spent 12 days on the big island of Hawaii. In these totally unfamiliar environs, all the physical and mental aches, pains and assorted and sundry vicissitudes of what are associated with what (and I find this description laughable!) “The Golden Years.”
Hawaii Island is a glorious place, and I found it so. But I also found myself quite unsteady walking across solidified lava beds…especially when warned, “Don’t fall…that rock is like a vegetable grater.
And I learned that I am done trying to swim in the ocean. Trying to regain my feet after being swept off my feet by undertow is something I used to do without thinking. This time I felt like a turtle being placed on it’s back. Where is the chair I use to raise myself up from a seated position? By the way, anyone want to buy a professional grade swim mask? Hardly used. Will sell at sacrifice.
The botanical gardens in Hilo are magnificent, with plants from every corner of this planet. And I recommend them to everyone. The paths are well paved. But they are very hilly. Some have handrails. But the ones I remember don’t have handrails. In what I perceive to be a nod to senior citizens (another term I despise!) there are strategically placed benches throughout the gardens.
The signs are unmistakable; That span of what we call life, from birth to
death is, inexorably winding down. I once was the youngest kid in class. That was a blink of an eye ago.
This is not a cry for pity! The only way to avoid the challenges of being old is to not becoming old. So I’m OK with it. I wish I had some stronger religious beliefs regarding immortality. I often think how I’d be so happy to become reanimated into what I was. Yet I’d want to retain the knowledge and experiences. Can I have it both ways? Regarding that subject of immortality, I’m open to the surprise of learning I was permanent.
This is my initial attempt to explain the inevitable ‘goodbye.’ But I realize each chapter must stand on it’s own. I don’t know if there will be more.
A Day at the Beach
The Kona coast of the big island of Hawaii is beautiful, as are most areas of our fiftieth state. But unlike most of the beaches on the other islands, those on that west coast of Hawaii are more rugged. There is, of course, plenty of white sand on most of the ocean front strips, but many of the beaches have boulder sized sharp, jagged remnants of long past volcanic eruptions. One needs to look before stepping.
On our last full day of vacation, tired of planned activity we found a small piece of beach upon which to relax. We planted ourselves about midway between the sandy entrance and the Pacific.
I had just come out of the water, and was headed back to our blanket, when I saw a young woman negotiating her way down the fairly steep slope towards the ocean, pushing a wheelchair with a man of about her age in it. The young man was strapped into the chair, and was obviously almost totally disabled. Probably quadriplegic.
As she carefully made her way to the shore, I sensed she could use a little help, and offered assistance. “Oh, thanks, but I’ve got it.” And she did. When she was near the spot on the beach she wanted, she untied the wheelchair bound man, faced him, and lifted him onto his feet. As she supported his full weight with one arm around his waist, she positioned and locked the wheels of the chair, then gently, ever so gently, placed the young man into it and secured him.
I began to wonder about these two young people. The woman reminded me of my high school cheerleaders. Petite, blond, and full of energy…the type, I recalled, who would only date star athletes and generally walked around just looking cute.
My first thought was that she must have been a care giver. Certainly she knew how to deal with a wheelchair, lift someone a foot taller than herself, and do all the physical things required.
In a few minutes, the woman left the side of the chair, and ran out into the surf, diving, jumping, swimming and splashing.
She remained in the water for only a few minutes, and returned to the wheelchair. She then put her arms around the “patient,” hugged and then kissed him several times. This was more than a professional relationship. This was a couple. My mind began a race with my preconceptions. Maybe he was injured after they met…possibly a war veteran. And she was sticking by him out of loyalty. But their silent interplay indicated far more than loyalty. It was apparent that there was devotion and love between the two. “Cheerleader, where is the football captain? Why is not my stereotype of your superficiality in this scene? Or is he a wealthy soon to be deceased man whose family has promised you a fortune?”
None of that rang true, and I finally realized I was tuning into some very unpleasant and bigoted thoughts. Maybe, just maybe, what I was witnessing was what it appeared to be. A bit of shame hit me.
In an hour or so, the young couple was preparing to leave. The exit would be up hill. She lifted him, and was having a little difficulty in repositioning the wheelchair. This time she allowed me to help. When he was again in the chair, he looked up. “Thanks.” She smiled and they were gone. I have mulled that afternoon many times. I still wonder about those two. And I think some self examination is in order as well.