October 04, 2009

Leap and the Net Will Appear: On Aging and Going Places

I used to wonder why old people talked incessantly about the past and their health. Now I know. That's all there is.

Their present is awash in physical diminishment. Their future is all about down-sizing and giving up and letting go. No scenic tours anymore; it's a one-way street on a dead end. My old Uncle Tim, who lived to be 104, used to say that if you could eat, sleep, and poop you had nothing to complain about. I don't know. I think old sucks...To stay sane, old people have to focus on the past! They have to talk about their health; together they solve issues their doctors can't or won't.


The whole thing depresses me. I'm not ready to sink into the past, to down-size, give up, let go--be content with eating, sleeping and pooping. I still want to "seize the day," do something wild, exciting, make plans like I was twenty, go places, "live it up." I am not this person in the mirror! I am not this person who keeps talking about gluten intolerance, or who gets excited over Dr. Oz and discussions about blood pressure.

Did I say the whole thing depresses me? I think if I have to live another year like the one before, stuck in my tiny house, the skies endlessly gray wherever I look, my only company being the aging woman in the mirror and my only diversion the relentless task of searching for jobs that don't exist, I will go stark raving mad. Truly. Really, how pointless is it to be fifty-seven years old in a state where "young" is cutting edge, there are only 14,000 jobs, and 360,000 unemployed? The definition of crazy, I've heard said, is doing the same old thing over and over and expecting different results. Can I really expect to continue what I'm doing and not go crazy?

So I've been toying with the idea of going to Arizona for awhile. Why? I don't really know. I just feel compelled. It's like I have to do something. Anything. Yet it's irrational because I have little money and no place to live down there--and figuring it all out boggles my mind! But can I really afford to stay put, fretting over my falling face, talking about my health, and looking into extended care insurance? This is a shrinking world with nothing more to look forward to but Medicare.

I have to ask--Instead of down-sizing, giving up, and letting go, why can't I be like my niece Jamie, who just took off across Canada, BC to Newfoundland, with just her thumb and a couple of friends? Why the bloody heck not?

The answer of course is that I have the weight of age in my soul, Jamie does not. She has a whole future ahead of her. She doesn't need to carry the worry over money like me. She's got her eye on Newfoundland, not Medicare. So this lack of money at my age is a big deal. Being unemployed for 15 months is an even bigger deal. It means that my savings has been leaking like a helium balloon and, last time I checked, I did not have a fairy godmother with a lovely magic wand and handy helium tank.

There are of course a host of other problems that weigh me down. Like an old Jeep with 220,000 miles on it--and no air conditioning. In Arizona! And what about my medications? How will I get the hormones refilled? The thyroid? See? Old people talk about their health all the time. And now that we're back to that, I might as well confess that my aging brain slows down on the necessary logistics that have to be worked through, spinning around and around like the "wheel of death" on my Macintosh computer. Like I said, mind boggled. With no way to reboot.

Yet I used to do this kind of stuff all the time. Never thought twice. Just packed up and took off, went wherever my little heart fancied. And in cars a whole lot less reliable than my sixteen-year-old Jeep. A whole lot less. People used to think I was nuts. Hey, give me this kind of crazy any day. Simply never occurred to me back then to distrust myself, or my ability to conquer whatever problem I might encounter. But now that I'm aging? This unrecognizable, slow-chugging brain of mine finds it almost impossible (certainly difficult) to keep new fears at bay, the logistics sorted, everything logically pursued to resolution. Really, what the heck am I doing? This more or less sticking out my thumb and heading for Newfoundland?

Ah, but into all this mental chaos and soul-searching doubt and high anxiety and suffocating fear that doesn't become me arrives my youngest son, temporarily camped at my doorstep because he has a squatter who's taken up residence in his condo. "Just go," he tells me. "Just do it!"

"But--"

"Just do it!"


quotablecards.com
 My friend Heidi has a magnet on her frig. Leap and the net will appear. This is, of course, a divine principle better known as "faith
and trust" in the language of Christianity. For some reason, though, right now it's easier for me to believe a magnet. So Heidi--who's always leaped and always landed on her feet--and with a whole shiny life to show for it--lent me her magnet. So between reading it a dozen times a day on my own frig and my son's "Just go, do something different, hit the road, take off..." I have been doggedly plotting my course for Arizona. Reserving, of course, the right to escape at any time back into my dull routine of getting old and endlessly applying for jobs that don't exist while staring at the gray skies of our Pacific Northwest and watching the new Dr. Oz show. "You don't really have to go, you know," I tell myself. "You can stay put and avoid all this headache and irresponsibility." But Blake counters, "Yes, you do!"

So I've been wading into the tangled mess of logistics, this nest of impossibilities compounded by scams on Craigslist, moving forward one step at a time (still reserving the right to retreat!) until, wow, last night, things actually started to look up. As of last night I have someone to stay in my house; as of last night I have a place to stay in Arizona. In fact, a whole house to myself--always a plus. In fact, right next door to my former mother-in-law! It's magic. A whole huge tangle of logistics nicely unraveling and magically knitting themselves into place. Dare I say net?

Leap and the net will appear. Yesterday afternoon I leaped. By nightfall I had
a net. Here's how I made the plunge.

It was a glorious fall day. Blake, still temporarily camped out on my doorstep and both of us suffering agitation over the latest shenanigans of his squat
ter, went out to burn off excess energy and begin the odd jobs that have to be done to get the house ready for fall--and my Jeep for the trip I still wasn't sure I was going to take. While Blake straightened up the garage, mowed the lawn, and painted the house trim (winter's howling wind and driving rain having peeled the paint to bare wood), I scrubbed and cleaned the inside of Too Cool (the ancient Jeep) and began loading her up. Bedding, groceries, camping chairs... Maybe it was the chairs. One is for me, the other for Carol. Carol is Wayne's sister. Wayne is my high school buddy of forty years ago and way back in the day, forty years ago, we now and then let her tag along. Now she and I are hoping to go camping. Maybe it was the chairs, maybe the sunny, blue-sky day, maybe the company and support of my son, at any rate I was suddenly visualizing future instead of past. I was going to go to Arizona come hell or high water. True, no one to stay in my house yet. And true, no place to live in Arizona. Yet. Oh well. I made a U-turn and got off the one-way dead end. Sticking with the bigger metaphor--I jumped.

"What should we do now?" I asked Blake, tasks done and feeling good for having made up my mind at last.


"You need to go for a motorcycle ride."

"Are you crazy! I can't drive that thing!" Thing being the huge black motorbike in my driveway.

"I'll drive you. I'll take you for a spin through the neighborhood."

"I'm too scared."

He gave me that look that said "you're always scared."

I got the point. "Okay," I said slowly, trying out the idea in my head. I skipped a little, my body catching up to the notion. "Okay!"

"Okay then! Go get a sweater!"

He helped me into his leather coat, zipped me up, then jammed his helmet down around my head. My ears folded over down around my chin somewhere. "Hey! What do I do about my ears?"

"Wiggle the helmet, work them back into place!"

I did...and why can't a face lift be so easy?


I held my chin up to get the buckle snapped into place. I heard a click. Blake gave the strap a tug. I was in. He rotated the visor down over my eyes.

Wow. It was like being inside a fish aquarium. No bubbles, though. No hiss of a pump. Just an odd silence. He swung onto his bike. Patted the seat behind him. I swung on, not as gracefully but I did swing, and grabbed him around the middle.

"Scoot back a little!" he hollered off his shoulder.

I scooted.

He scooted back into me, tucking right into my arms so I could feel his whole body connect with mine. Twenty-nine years ago we'd held this position for nine months. How had this wonderful grown son of mine once been an embryo of life inside me? Not even a heart beat and now making my own heart thud in steady excitement? Vroooom! Off we went, rumbling out of the driveway, this thing called time a very funny thing indeed.

"Slow down!" I screamed.

I raised him well. He slowed down and only once "gunned" it, me screaming my head off the whole time. Felt like I was a hornet headed anywhere.

"Take my picture," I ordered when we got back, adrenalin still going, my body feeling the thrill of being alive, awake to the possibilities of life and energized by the release of fear and worry and my "old peoples" shrinking world of aches and pains and nursing homes lurking on the horizon.

He took my picture. I don't know what's up with the hair--or the Karl Malden nose, but know that I'm grinning ear to ear. See me?

The picture means something to me. Something about riding a motorcycle with my son suggests I've got a long way to go before getting old. It hints of adventure every woman should heed before eating, sleeping, and pooping becomes enough.

Leap and the net will appear.