[EDITORIAL NOTE: While I am away, several excellent elderbloggers agreed to fill in for me as guest bloggers.
Marian Van Eyk McCain, a wise woman I got to meet in person recently who blogs at ElderWomanBlog, is here today with a story titled The Need to Lie Down. Please make her welcome with lots of comments and visit her blog.
For half a century, I took my spine for granted. You do, don't you?
Apart from those unfortunate few who, through sports or accidents, suffer spinal injuries, most young people have trouble-free backs. I see them at Yoga classes, straight as ramrods, sitting effortlessly in lotus position. I see them curled up asleep in airplane seats in postures that would have me limping for days afterwards.
We all take our spines for granted – treating them like unappreciated donkeys until the day comes when some long-suffering vertebra finally crumples under the strain. With me, it was all because of the boy scouts.
They had promised to come and dig the post holes for the new play equipment we were constructing in the garden of the community house. Two of us from the Management Committee had arranged to meet them there with spades and show them where to dig. But they didn't turn up.
Impatient to get going, and with all the poles ready to sink into the ground, I suggested we dig the holes ourselves. "I can't do that", said my colleague, who was slightly older than me. "I have a bad back."
I scoffed inwardly and rolled up my sleeves. Post holes we had planned and post holes we would jolly well get, boy scouts or no boy scouts.
She went home and I stayed the rest of the afternoon and dug all the holes myself. Then I sank the posts and cemented them in. I went home at dinner time, exhausted but triumphant.
The next morning, I couldn’t even get out of bed. Over the next few years, through trial and error, physical therapy, chiropractic and various other kinds of bodywork, I learned how to manage my 'bad back'. I learned to carry a small pillow everywhere with me, for lumbar support. I learned what sort of chairs I could afford to sit in and which I couldn't, in order to avoid sciatica. I figured out which exercises helped to keep pain at bay and which ones were likely to bring it on.
Above all, I learned to feel when things were 'out' and to find ways of adjusting my own spine. I became – and still am – enamoured of the 'click' that tells me something has gone back to where it should be. And I know that if I can stretch full length on the ground for a while, even the most stubborn pain will ease.
My partner is the same. He has had a dodgy back since he was in his early fifties, and like me he likes to lie full length and stretch whenever he can. The difference is that he just goes ahead and does it, wherever he happens to be, whereas I am more afraid of getting funny looks.
One day, when we were on a long drive and needed a break, we called into one of those big, regional shopping malls and he stayed with the car while I went in search of sandwiches for our lunch. There was a grassy area next to the parking lot so he spread out the picnic blanket, did a few Yoga stretches and then lay down on his back with his hat over his face to shield it from the sun.
He was awakened by two concerned, female shoppers. "Are you alright?" they wanted to know. Yes, he said, he was fine. He was just resting his back. Off they went, looking bemused.
People just don't lie down in car parks unless they are ill, drunk or homeless. He put his hat back over his face. But his catnap on the grass didn't last long. Next time he took the hat off his face it was to find himself staring at a policeman.
I know the feeling. Twice in my life I have been reprimanded by a man in uniform for daring to be horizontal in a place where the rule is that one must remain vertical at all times, namely a Greyhound bus station.
Never mind that you are on a cross-country journey that feels as though it will never end, your ankles are swollen, your back aches and you feel as though you will go crazy if you can't stretch your spine this very second. Or never mind that because of some suspected terrorist incident that delayed your departure from Cleveland by two hours, you missed the midnight connection to New York and there isn’t another till seven-thirty tomorrow morning.
No, the rule must not be flouted. Thou Shalt Not Lie Down in a Greyhound Bus Terminal.
Greyhound ought to employ more people with bad backs. It's only if you have one yourself that you understand. Some of us just HAVE to lie down sometimes.
[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Matti tells a hilarious story titled, Boy Talk, that proves you can’t beat a kid at his own game.]