Zen and the Art of Table Tennis: Navigating my Late-life Crisis
As the baby of the family and perennially one of the youngest kids in my class, I never envisioned looking older. I’m a person who got carded well into my forties. So, the first time a fresh-faced checker asked me if I’d like the senior discount, I was shocked, indignant and a little horrified. Really? Was she blind? I looked to my elder sisters for a dose of common sense. They reassured me. Don’t take it personally. We all look alike to kids in their twenties. I took in their wisdom, but as an added precaution, avoided shopping on Tuesdays for the next year or so.
My sixtieth birthday arrived without fanfare. On that bright morning in early December, I strolled along the Mendocino shore with my dearest companions. Pausing to gaze out at the cloudless sky, the sparkling water, I released a long sigh, chuckling inwardly at my foolishness and vanity. What was I thinking? This arbitrary number held no diabolical power. I counted my blessings, savored every bite of cake, and convinced myself that I was, unequivocally, still me.
A couple weeks later, in the throes of last-minute holiday preparations, it all changed. On my feet one minute — the next minute, gripped by leaden exhaustion, I collapsed into bed. I passed a miserable week in a fog of self-pity, as my fever spiked and my cough deepened, each ragged spasm, a barbed blade to my lungs. While others celebrated the holidays, I cursed my miserable, aching bones. And no, I hadn’t neglected my annual flu shot.
Even after I returned to the land of the living, the cough lingered accompanied by oppressive fatigue. Routine tasks, such as walking around the block or making the bed, left me weak as a newborn kitten. I’m happy to report that I regained my stamina, but this rebound took much longer than expected. Disconcertingly, everything seems to take longer these days. I had to admit I was no longer the baby, nor the youngest, but frequently the eldest person in the room. The full weight of sixty years had descended, hitting me like a slug to the gut. My “still me” theory crumbled, little cracks in the foundation allowing fear and doubt to seep in. Was this it? Had I fallen into the inevitable, irreversible downhill slide?