If we live long enough, there will be loss. You can count on it. At the least, muscles will weaken, we will tire more quickly, and memory may become an issue.
amba at ambivablog recently reminded me of this:
“You know anyone who doesn't [live with limitations]? For starters, that's all of us who are simply growing older and learning to live with sore knees and backs, dimming or blurring eyesight, fogged-in memory, and more. (One of the ways I knew I was middle-aged was when I stopped seeing the very old person creeping along in front of me in the supermarket as a maddening obstacle and started seeing him or her as a hero.)”
Barring accident or disease, these debilities sneak up on us gradually. One day, you wait for the next one rather than run for the bus. Another day, you think better of buying a half gallon of cider because your other purchases already weigh too much to carry easily. And when tearing through all the weekly housecleaning on Saturday morning comes to require a nap afterwards, you devise a schedule to spread it out over seven days. Dr. William Thomas speaks of this slowing down in his book What are Old People For?:
“Old age may be a time of loss and decline, but it is not only that. There is a countervailing and equally significant increase in the power of adaptation. The development of this capability is one of the most important and least acknowledged virtues of aging…
“While it is true that muscles weaken in late life, it is also true that older people are less likely to report symptoms of depression than younger people. Hair may turn white, get thin, and fall out, but when surveyed, older people often report an enhanced sense of well-being…
“These seeming paradoxes are actually the fruits of adaptation. It grows in tandem with and is nourished by the decline in physiological function.”
Adaptation, and also courage - the quiet kind that elders go about every day without acknowledgement from the culture or even, Dr. Thomas notwithstanding, the medical community. There are no medals, no cheers for navigating around the shoals of declining capability, but there ought to be because as the actor Bette Davis noted wisely, “Old age ain’t for sissies.”
amba links to a remarkable blog post by Anne Streiber who has been adapting to the residual effects of a ruptured brain aneurysm she suffered in 2004. Take her wish for everyone and hold it near as you make the adaptations required for living a rich and successful old age:
“Now I know that fearlessness is something we all need, because living even an ordinary life takes courage..
“May you all be brave in the face of your particular adversity, whatever it is.”