Becky Little is a friend from our church in Kensington who loves to read and paint, go bowling and play bridge. She turned 100 in February, still drives her own car and prefers living alone in her two-story apartment in Leisure World.
“I climb up and down the stairs several times a day,” she says.
“My only problem is falling up, not falling down. I sometimes miss a step, so I end up falling up.”
If that’s how aging works, I want to be like Becky when I grow up.
But let’s face it, old age brings limitations. We get forgetful. We trip and fall.
Which is what happened to my wife, Elvie, when we were out shopping for a Christmas Tree at Home Depot. She tripped over some leftover netting and stumbled, hitting her head on the pavement. An Urgent Care doctor advised getting a CT-scan, to make sure there’s no internal bleeding. We both worried until the results proved negative.
I had my own scare when I was diagnosed with prostate cancer two years ago. Thank God for health care, my PSA count is now zero.
A while back, I took Elvie to the John Hopkins Center for an MRI. She’s been bothered by a ticking in her ear that keeps her up at nights. These medical appointments, even if they are just for minor aches and pains, are reminders that, yes, we are aging. She turned 80 in June.
While waiting, Rod Stewart’s “Have I told you lately that I love you” was playing on the Muzak. A Medical Technician called out Elvie’s name. “Elvira, I’m going to take you to MRI now, ok?” she said cheerfully. “I know its nice and warm outside, and it’s cold inside the exam room, but I will give you a warm blanket.” She gently led Elvie inside. “You feel my heart with gladness, you take out pain and sadness,” the music continued. For a moment, I imagined Elvie being taken away to some awful place, and may never come back. But I was comforted by the aging singer’s crooning. He must know something about taking out pain and sadness.
Another time, we were waiting in the Radiology Room at Suburban Hospital. She needed a biopsy taken due to a suspected cancer in her throat. Again, we were relieved to learn it was negative. A friend said we’re like old cars. Our aging parts need replacements.
My own “aging” problem is cluelessness. One day, Elvie sent me to Safeway to buy Tofu. “Make sure it’s firm,” she said. “Do I need to squeeze it to make sure it’s firm?” I asked. She rolled her eyes. So I go to Safeway and ask a stock clerk. “Where do I find Firm Tofu?” She pointed right at it. It’s right there staring at me in bold letters: TOFU FIRM.
My next errand was to buy bananas. When I got home, I got a lecture. “They’re huge,” she exclaimed. “You should have gotten the smaller ones. You really should learn how to buy the right size bananas. What are you going to do when I’m gone?” It suddenly dawned on me that bananas can bring up intimations of mortality.
One time we were listening to NPR’s report about Syrian President Assad gassing his own people. How terrible, we thought. Suddenly she blurted out: “Did you gas up the car?” OK, that was my senior lapse. But that was a stretch, about the gas.
At around this time, a friend gave me a book, “Falling Upward,” by Richard Rohr, a Franciscan friar. As we grow older, he writes, we begin to “embark on a further journey, one that involves challenges, mistakes, loss of control, broader horizons, and necessary suffering that actually shocks us out of our prior comfort zone.” Heavy.
I like to think, like my friend Becky, that if I commit a lapse or miss a step, I’m simply just falling up.
Send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org