It’s almost noon and the one thing I have managed to do so far today is get myself upright.
Yes, I am sitting at the table, instead of lying in bed, but it isn’t easy.
Every few minutes I think to myself, maybe I’ll just get back into bed – that would be so much easier.
For the next three days, I have nothing really planned. It’s no secret that my work keeps me busy, and going. Every day I have a reason to get up and get moving and people come and visit me. It’s structured and it’s social and it’s mostly quite pleasant. It’s a lot, but when it’s time to go home and the tight schedule gives way to a few hours in the evening with nothing much I have to do, the initial relief of having done a hard day’s work gives way to a little bit of empty.
Empty time and space is necessary, and also difficult.
There are after hours things I want to do and I do them, mostly by myself.
Yesterday I got back from a three-day rafting trip down the Tuolumne. I go to concerts and take music lessons and sometimes I make things out of clay, or I collage parts of the house. My front door is pretty rad.
This year, I really wanted to get in shape and I have continued with enough forward momentum that despite the big South Beach Meal delivery fail, and other missteps, I’ve shed a few pounds.
My hiking endurance has improved and I’m now lifting weights three times a week. My body feels a little bit stronger.
I do enough to keep it all from going to hell, but I often feel like I’m spinning my wheels. I still can’t find my abs.
I’m in okay shape, but not great shape. When you are older, you have to fight just to be able to spring up out of a chair without too many creaks or aches or pains. And to be honest, pushing myself physically, while it does make me stronger, makes everything hurt more.
It’s hard to see progress when I still don’t play the fiddle very well, when I still have a fair-sized middle and when I have days like this.
Ideal me would take a few hours and work on music, maybe go for a hike, take a yoga class and do a little deep cleaning.
You know the little bags and piles of stuff that accumulate around the house? You know how eventually you need to take a few hours and straighten everything out just to find your toothbrush? Well, I think I’m reaching maximum chaos capacity and the piles need attention. Just start here, I tell myself, and then I look away.
The secret of course is just to keep moving. Just keep at it.
If I clean up a little, I’ll feel better. If I play a little music, I will remember why it even is that I enjoy it so much. If I take a yoga class, I’ll sleep better.
But for now I am just upright and I’m typing so I won’t go back into bed, dammit!
A few words about the Tuolumne trip. First off, I was afraid. I was afraid to be around people I didn’t know and afraid of the rapids and even afraid I didn’t have the energy to get myself packed up and on my way. I was also afraid to leave my practice and patients.
I did it because I had to. Because trips like this are what living looks like.
Turns out that I was strong enough to paddle and strong enough to hike over slippery rocks and boulders. And I was able to smile and talk to people I didn’t know.
I wouldn’t say it was fun. I struggled. I teared up when no one was looking. I felt out of place.
The guides were young and happy and in incredibly good shape. They were ridiculously encouraging and kind and yet all my 55 year old brain kept coming back to was – how did I get to be so old?
The last time I rafted I was fourteen. I didn’t hesitate to jump off a rock or swim a rapid. Now I am cautious and uncertain. There were a couple of places on the trip where swimming was needed and I just stared at the water, not knowing if I could make it across the river.
It was absurd because I had a life jacket on and once I got in, my arms and legs worked just fine. But I didn’t have faith in them and I was constantly trying to second guess my ability to do things.
All I can say is I’m really glad that I’ve been so active this year. My muscles were challenged, but up for the task.
The other guests were all much older than me. Or so they seemed initially. Chronologically, they were in their 60’s and 70’s (okay, not so much older) but physically, in ways that really mattered, they were maybe 45. It was inspirational, and also confusing. I wasn’t near as young as the guides nor was I as old as my fellow guests. But everyone else seemed to have more zest and get up and go than I manage on an average day, regardless of their age.
So even though I wouldn’t say the trip was “fun”, it was a big lesson if I choose to see it that way.
If I bust ass and keep moving and strive to be in the best possible shape and keep my mind active and also get and stay involved in various hobbies and interests – seventy can look pretty much like fifty. Maybe even better judging by some of these folks. And if I don’t, well, I can sink into that couch, and will certainly have a hell of a time getting up, even just to change a light bulb.
Here’s the part about being single. I think a lot of things can hit you harder. Sure, the times when you just up and do something impulsive because you want to – you can feel very light and untethered. You get to do what you want! But the days you don’t want to move feel heavier. No one else is bustling about keeping the rhythm and pushing you forward.
There is no one to lift a hand when you’d like to hear some music but can’t think what to play. Many nights I’ve gone to bed thirsty because I just haven’t felt like getting up to get a drink. Turns out having someone grab you a glass of water is a big deal, especially when you sometimes crash so hard that even rolling over is an issue.
In the course of writing this I’ve managed to make myself a very nice brunch with tomatoes I planted months back when somehow I had the energy to lug bags of potting soil up the stairs. I’m really glad that I got out of bed that day and did that.
And that’s one of the hardest but most important things to remember.
Sometimes your today self can barely get moving, but if you do, your future self will thank you.
So don’t forget to thank yourself for all the little things you’ve done that make today the tiniest bit nicer. And don’t forget to pay yourself forward.
Sign up for rafting trips that bring you face to face with a kind of young you’ll never be again, but take special note of the seventy somethings that moved past middle age without slowing down.
Do things you don’t feel like doing and overall, life is better.
Writing this, I’ve made a promise to myself to never go to bed thirsty again. Getting up isn’t that hard.
Next I’m going to unpack one bag and after that…..well, I’ll keep you posted.