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Aging, Dung Beetles and Me

Years ago when my wife’s father, Bob, was the age I am now we went into town for burgers, fries and beer. At one point in our conversation he began to voice his unhappiness about getting older. Basically he said, much more politely then this, that getting old was crap and that it angered him that he could no longer do some of the things he had taken for granted in the past. I offered some nonsense suggesting that with aging comes wisdom and that in some cultures the elderly are revered. He responded, again politely, that that was crap. Wisdom aside, if you can’t climb a mountain or even get on to the roof to fix the tiles then getting older is crap.

Now that I am the age he was then, I know he was right. Getting older can be crap. It’s not the end of the world. Death is the end of the world (at least for the one who dies). So, not the end of the world, but nonetheless no fun. It would be self-indulgent of me to list my aging complaints, but what the hell. The skin: what happened to all that elasticity? The joints: I never noticed them before. The ears: ENT tells me I need to keep an eye on my hearing, and that’s before even mentioning the tinnitus roaring in both ears 24/7. The inner ear damage: leaves me dizzy 24/7, and sometimes nauseous. The bad back: keeps me on my toes, or in bed. The prostate: cancer, which adds a different perspective to the living thing, though I refuse to be known as Cancer Dale and I have no plans to write the book. And I dare not get started on the toenails. It’s not as though any one of these things ruins my day, but the accumulative effect makes me agree with Bob. Getting older is crap.

I haven’t talked to Bob about this in years, but I assume he is accepting, with more grace than I, the aging process. I’m now lying in bed because of my back, which I hurt doing the back breaking task of straightening the duvet (climb a mountain, you’ve got to be kidding!). I’m in a bit of pain, but not as much as I will be during my next  acupuncture session. The tinnitus is roaring and goodness knows what my prostate is up to. I never know when my inner ear will make me nauseous or my PSA might rise. All of which means that I need to make peace with this ever changing body of mine. Or at least I better try, because I can only assume things will get worse.

There is the old standby of reminding myself that there are absolutely millions of people in the world worse off than I. But, and I hate to admit this, when I can’t sit at the table for dinner or when I contemplate having to wear a diaper after prostate treatment, I really don’t care about them. Don’t hate me, and there is some hope for me because the other day I realised when seeing Stephen Hawking on TV that I am less worthy than a dung beetle. Nonetheless, there has to be a better way of making peace with my deteriorating body rather than contemplating the depths of human suffering.

I have a dear friend, a few years older than I, who’s a poet with a poet's heart and sensibilities. He’s a step or two ahead of me in the aging process and has spoken of the inevitable decay of his body with only death waiting at the end. He has never sounded morbid about this, but there is always a strong sense of inevitability and finality. He has said that when the time comes he wanted to walk off into the wilderness, unannounced, by himself, find a good tree, sit down with his back against its trunk and die quietly. This never seemed like an expression of morbidity, but rather nobility, acceptance and peacefulness. It was a good plan, that is until unexpectedly in this his age of decay he fell in love. He now speaks, both poetically and anxiously, of a Plan B. Plane B doesn’t magically eliminate the inevitable decline and all that crap, but it does put it all in a new light.

God forbid that someone would not have a Plan B. Admittedly I like TV, but that’s no Plan B. The flat screen can’t hold your hand when you’re in pain. It can’t wash the sheets and make the bed when you can’t lift a feather. It can’t cook you a warm meal when you have no appetite. It can’t clean your body when you can’t move and you don’t really care. It can’t whisper in your ear when you are frightened. And it can’t say goodbye when it’s time for the world to end. Actually, all the gods that humankind has ever imagined should forbid that anyone lack a Plan B. Unfortunately, it seems that all the imagined gods leave those sort of things to us.

So, I may be little less than a dung beetle, but I am fortunate in having an excellent Plan B. It may not make the tinnitus go away, but she is always patient when I say: What did you say? I’m sorry. What?  What?!

Copyright © 2012 Dale Rominger


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