Before moving to New York City in 1969, I had lived in seven cities and moved several times within some of those towns. As a result, I am an expert at packing. There were damaged items only when the moving company packed on two or three occasions so once again, I am packing.
Twenty-three years ago, when I bought this apartment, I spread the chore over five or six weeks, filling up two or three boxes each evening after work, a few more on weekends, and by moving day it was done. No big deal.
Not so this time. I hadn’t counted on the physical differences 23 years bring. It’s harder now to hoist a box of books across the room or onto a stack of other boxes. I don’t remember them being so heavy in past moves, and today, after hauling several of them around, there’s an ache in my lower back I’ve never felt before.
Getting on and off the stool dozens of times to reach stuff stored on high shelves unexpectedly tires me too. I don’t recall that in the past. Packing is basically boring so I’d like to get through each session as quickly as possible but this time, I need rest periods that weren’t necessary when I was 42.
When we are children, there are things we cannot do because we are too small, too short or not strong enough yet. By our teen years, we are fully capable physically and that doesn’t change much for a long time, decades, so we have no practice at accommodating diminishing capability.
Also, in a youth-obsessed culture, there is an unspoken pressure to hide - or not admit - any physical decline for as long as possible even, perhaps, to ourselves. To reveal that you can’t lift the box is tantamount to admitting you are less capable in general which, of course, is not so but might be seen that way by others. Society accommodates children’s lesser abilities without question and we should be as understanding at the other end of life.
Last evening, a friend who is in her early 30s, having returned from a quick trip to London, came to dinner with the excellent cheeses she obtained there. Hearing my lament about tiring more easily now, she offered to spend a day helping me pack. It was my almost unconscious reaction to decline with a polite thank you, but this morning, I've decided to accept her kind offer.
Elders can help the culture - and oursevles - accept as normal the differences that come with aging by graciously allowing others to help when they offer, by asking for help when we need it and by learning to work within our new limitations. It’s been three or four years since I gave up doing all the housecleaning on Saturdays and I now spread it over the entire week, one room or chore per day. I just forgot to apply the same strategy to packing for this move by planning for extra time.
I also forgot, in not asking friends to help, that we all feel good about ourselves when we share our expertise. I recently spent an hour or two on the telephone helping a neophyte blogger get started and felt an excellent sense of well-being afterward. Pitching in with our individual knowledge or just hauling boxes around for someone who can't do it as easily anymore nourishes our sense of personal kindheartedness and reaffirms our humanity.
There is one upside to the rest periods I need now which didn’t exist 23 years ago: this time, I can check email, write a blog post or read the news online until I’m ready to tackle the next box. I need to be careful, though. The internet is seductive and if I get distracted for too long, the packing will never get done.
[EDITORIAL NOTE: On yesterday's post about municipal callousness, joared - who is not a blogger herself but who comments prolifically around the blogosphere - left a story about the everyday need for more sensitivity toward others in situations that are commonplace but less dramatic than ticketing an elder for walking too slowly. It has a nice synergy with this post.]