When I was 18, I had water on the knee, and ended up having a tendon transplant during my freshman year of college. The campus police had to drive me to classes. I had crutches and hobbled around, but of course eventually I healed, and was as good as new.
When I was 46, I had a hiatal hernia that took me down for a year. It felt like a truck on my chest and a piece of meat stuck in my throat. I took all kinds of supplements, had an endoscopy, tried acupuncture and chiropractic, and eventually I was as good as new.
When I was in my 50s, a deck I was on collapsed, and I broke my wrist. The doctor said, “Take a cookie, grind your heel into it. That’s the kind of break you have.” My wrist completely healed. It was as if it never happened. I was as good as new.
Which brings me to now. And why the words “as good as new” will never be a possibility for me again.
I am older than many of my friends, and I’m beginning to think I’m here as a mentor, a guide if you will, for what they can expect down the road. It’s a big responsibility. And I am taking it quite seriously. The thing is, I don’t want to scare them, but I also must be honest. I see them looking so innocent when they jump out of a chair and then gracefully lower themselves back into it. There is no jumping for me anymore, and nothing is graceful. I actually have to fall into a chair. And push off to get up.
The thing is, this loss should have been incremental. It should have happened gradually. But that’s not how it worked. I can tell you exactly the moment when I went from being able to physically do anything (maybe a bit slower, maybe a bit crankier) to “I can’t do that anymore.”
It happened at Menemsha Beach last September. I couldn’t get out of the water. I literally couldn’t get up and out of the ocean. I waited for a wave (such as they are) to assist. I was right at the edge, and even though there’s a slight upgrade and all those little pebbles, I had to crawl out on my hands and knees. Luckily I don’t embarrass easily. Besides, I was too blown away that that had happened to worry about people seeing.
That was the beginning of my saying to my husband and to myself, “This isn’t going to get better. This is actually going to get worse.”
And that’s what’s been happening. It’s harder to walk, and harder to get up, and harder to lift things, and harder to open things.
My friend Belleruth said, after hip surgery, her doctor wasn’t kidding when he said how long it would take to coax those former tush and IT band muscles to switch out their long-held identity and become hip abductors. She’s taken to talking to them, saying, “Come on guys, you’re abductors now. It’s a great and fulfilling job. You’re gonna love it.”
So recently when I was repeating my mantra of “OMG, I’ll never be as good as new again,” I realized that the game now is to maintain. Just not lose any more ground.
But how? Talk to my aging bones? Lecture my weary muscles?
And then I remembered a few years ago I was teaching my Writing From the Heart workshop at Kripalu, a yoga retreat center in Lenox, and in the faculty lounge, I met a yoga teacher who had gorgeous posture, walked briskly in little high heels, and held herself erect with such ease and grace. Her name was Tao Porchon-Lynch and she was … drum roll please … 101! How is this even possible? I remember thinking. One hundred and one? Excuse me? She had so much energy, I could barely keep up with her. Because we had the same teaching schedule, we started hanging out together, and by the time our workshops were over, I had made a secret vow that I would go back to yoga.
Yes, go back. The fact is, years ago, for a short time, I had had a yoga practice with the brilliant Bonnie. I even have a photo of myself in an impressive pretzel-like pose. Unfortunately, some personal stuff had me distracted, and I ended up abandoning the very thing that I needed the most. But that was years ago, and the vow I took with Tao turned into nothing more than a fantasy.
Last week I took a walk I have taken for decades, and every step was a huge effort. I came home and said, “That’s it. I’m calling Bon.”
I’ve made peace with the fact that I will not ever be as good as new (physically), but my joy isn’t being diminished. That gets points. I can still come up with answers (using the alphabet as the stimulant). I don’t need a nap midday. So let’s just redefine that hackneyed phrase.
How’s “as good as old”?
P.S. I just walked 2.7 miles effortlessly! So forget everything I said. I may not be as good as new … but I’m good.
P.P.S. I know I told you I burned my marshmallow stick, but I didn’t tell you that I had one to spare. It’s not as pointy and it’s not as long, but it’s there.