In early April, Clarence at Can You Hear Me Now? was diagnosed with diabetes. A couple of weeks later, he posted this:
“I'm not sure why the word "sugarless" most often translates or is defined as "tasteless," but in my personal experience, it does. If there was one thing I looked forward to for all of my life it was meal time. That sure has changed.”
Then, as his readers found out on April 21, Always Question broke his hip, requiring postponement of surgery for prostate cancer:
“…just a simple step off the curb in a parking lot on an absolutely beautiful April morning. Suddenly one's life has changed - and in many ways no longer seems to be entirely one's own.”
These are sudden, life-altering events, yet these two men who, for the better part of a year, have not shied from expressing their personal thoughts on important and sometimes controversial issues, have given their readers only perfunctory, almost detached reports about their conditions. Which reminded me of this passage from a book I recently finished reading:
“…because we adhere to the doctrine of youth’s perfection and because an adult-dominated society sees the encroachment of old age as a personal failing, we find age-related changes shameful in ways that death is not.
“…those who lose their grip on the vigor and virtues of energetic adulthood hide themselves and their shame from public view.”
- - William H. Thomas, M.D., What Are Old People For?
In no way do I mean to put words in the mouths of Clarence and AQ who may have their reasons for keeping their thoughts about these events private. But might it be, even unconsciously, that they are silent due of the shame of which Dr. Thomas writes?
As we get older, things go wrong with our bodies, they wear out and we are discouraged from talking about them. Younger people, in the bloom of youth and adulthood, readily hold out their casts for signing or relate the details of a hospital stay, but we older folks keep our ills to ourselves for fear of appearing frail and useless.
Even I, having spent more than a year here at Time Goes By encouraging acceptance of old people as we are and not as society wants us to be, succumbed this week. Last Saturday morning, getting out of bed produced searing pain in my lower back. It subsided to an almost tolerable thrum when I laid down or when I stood. I could walk – sort of – but sitting was excruciatingly painful. Only today am I back to normal.
Until writing that paragraph, however, I acknowledged it to no one. Friends called with the usual greeting, how are you? and I said, “fine.” When one asked about meeting for dinner, I said I had other plans. Undoubtedly, a neighbor who phoned would have picked up some things I needed at the grocery store saving me a painful, slow walk, but no-o-o.
I was too proud to ask, too indoctrinated by the culture into maintainng the pretense of youthfulness to admit an age-related ailment. And had I mentioned it, I know I would have remained silent about the unease that twitched around in the back of my mind as I contemplated more such episodes, perhaps more serious, in coming years.
Clarence is adapting to a new diet and medication and has mentioned that some previous ailments are improving. AQ is back to blogging almost regularly. They are undoubtedly learning from these age-related changes and I, for one, am curious to hear about what thoughts, concerns and new awareness of life and themselves may have been raised. Again, Dr. Thomas:
“The wisdom of elders is most available to those who are willing to acknowledge that they no longer possess (or need to possess) ‘that strength which in old days moved earth and heaven.’ It comes to those whose longevity has taught them to embrace being ‘made weak by time and fate.’
“The elders among us are meant ‘to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.’ What is little recognized in our time is that for elders, striving need not be yoked to doing, getting, and having.’”
Getting old is hard and old people don’t get enough credit for adapting to the slings and arrows life inevitably throws our way as we move into elderhood. And that is because we are subtly encouraged to keep secret these kinds of stories.
I am not suggesting we all maintain a running blog commentary of our aches and pains. But by holding too close the wisdom that may come to us as our strength wanes, what getting older is really like will remain the mystery it is to most people.