It was in about 1996, when I was 55 years old that I first realized I wasn't the youngest kid in the crowd anymore. That was based on nothing more than looking around the room I shared with 25 or 30 colleagues all of whom, I noticed for the first time, were young enough to be my children and even my grandchildren.
That visual incident sparked my interest in what getting old would really be like in the coming years but as much as I mentally poked around my body, I couldn't find any other manifestations of age. I could work a full day – even seven days a week for a couple of months while we created a new website – with no more recovery time than in my 20s and 30s.
I could still clean the apartment top to bottom on Saturday morning then, have energy left to prepare a dinner for several friends that night and enjoy the party into the wee hours. My body was thickening a bit in the middle, but I had it under reasonable control and if I looked my age – hard to tell in mid-years – I looked fine to me. (That hasn't changed.)
Age gradually caught up with me in the ensuing 15 years. Energy flagged along with stamina. Too many stairs and steep hills became problematic. I particularly noticed, before I left New York in 2006, that I couldn't carry as much weight walking home from shopping without stopping a couple of times to rest.
Other common evidence of age crept into my life here and there, like falling asleep early and waking hours before dawn; less appetite (not so much that it improved my weight); hair loss on my head; hair gain on my chin and upper lip; age spots on my hands; crepe-y looking skin near my inner elbows; and a general slowing down – particularly, I lack the reserves I once had to push through fatigue when things need to get done.
I have always been good at accepting reality, so I try, for example, to adjust my daytime schedule to fall asleep later. I no longer carry all the groceries up the stairs to my second-floor apartment at once; I make two trips, sometimes three. For those things that can't be accommodated – age spots, for one - I have accepted them and moved on. Nothing is gained by lamenting them.
But now I'm pissed off.
On Monday, the moving company delivered the packing boxes. I have four weeks to pack up my entire apartment and I started on Monday by cleaning out junk drawers. Most people have a junk drawer in the kitchen. I have four of those plus two in my desk and four or five more in various end tables and filing cabinets. A lot of junk.
I had not spent more than ten minutes bent over a low cabinet sorting out the keepers from the drek when there was a twinge in my back. Well, more like real pain when I straightened up and then an ache as I carried the trash bag into another room.
It was morning. I hadn't been awake for more than three hours; still had plenty of energy. But I had to rest in a chair for 15 minutes before the ache retreated.
I take relatively good care of my body; I eat a healthy diet, I get out and walk most days and I have a daily stretching and exercise routine. I don't abuse my body and I expect some return for my effort. But, apparently, we are not in synch, my body and me.
Packing takes a lot of bending, reaching, stretching and this work will never get done if it means 10 minutes on, 15 minutes off.
I've put a lot of thought to this since Monday and devised some ways to get the job finished over the next four weeks without damaging myself and still meet the deadline. But I'm not happy about the need to be extra careful and it doesn't seem fair. I'm “only” 69 and I'm betting Darlene Costner and Millie Garfield, who both have about 15 years on me, have something pithy to say about this.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Caroline Romberg: Call Me Coach