They Couldn’t Be More Different. The Long, Slow Slide Into Aging vs. Going Out With a Bang.
In the space of fifteen minutes, I had my heart lifted into the skies and then trashed and smashed into the spring ground.
Both experiences involved exchanges with Women of a Certain Age. One is a brand new friend. The other was with a multi-decade best buddy.
These conversations represent opposite ends of the aging bell curve, as it were.
The first phone call was to a woman named Susan, who will be 67 soon. She is an accomplished triathlete, marathoner, and health aficionado. While we spoke, I was enjoying the bounding energy in her voice, the strength that typifies athletes of any age. We were laughing about how she’d had a thumb tendon blow out days before a race. She’d only just recovered from a broken arm, and the surgeon wanted to operate on it.
She said no way, I have to race first. We’ll do it afterwards. So she raced, with an angry thumb, and then got it taken care of. That’s my kind of woman. She’s too busy living.
My right biceps tendon ruptured three days ago. It exploded like a gunshot. The resulting scream likely woke up my neighbors. The resulting pain, which is hard to describe, tends to keep a girl up at night. Now, as the tendon retracts into the classic “Popeye” bicep that is almost inevitable after such a rupture, I have a very weird-looking upper arm.
Damn, man. So much for my vanity. This is what I get for all that spinach. And all those hard core adventures. (Look, John Elway ruptured his during the 1997 pre-season. Not long afterwards, free of the pain, two Super Bowls. Nuff said.)
By the way. Here’s a lesson in perspective for those armchair QBs who scream at their favorite athletes when said athlete flubs a pass. YOU try to throw a perfect spiral bullet 45 yards with a bicep tendon that is hanging on by a thread and let’s see YOU nail the receiver in the numbers.
Lots of athletes, as well as those of us who do far too many repetitive movements, end up with this injury. It’s a temporary sideline. Elway was miserable for about six weeks(as I will likely be) and then was good to go.
I am far less worried about the pain than I am about being able to get back into training as quickly as possible. I have an epic trip coming up in June. Susan has epic races come up all year long.
Susan and I have no time to be down. We don’t have the time for long recovery periods.
Neither of us has the endless acres of years ahead of us. Down time at this age is expensive. I lost a full month at the beginning of this year and it cost me more than just the scheduled cruise. At this point in life, some things really don’t come back around again. Susan and I are both running against time, and determined to fill what we have left to us with as much as possible.
When we hung up after having set our interview time, I was on cloud nine. I love talking to women like Susan. Intense, healthy, motivated, engaged, energizing, challenging. That kind of woman motivates me to keep on keeping on. When she laughs at the inevitable prices we pay for being active, she lifts me out of any potential pout that an injury can cause.
Then moments later I got an email from my best friend Jill. She’s been out of touch for about a month.
Jill’s best friend lives in North Carolina. A fellow potter, she lost her husband a while back after a long battle with cancer. Now, the friend is in failing health. Jill spent the last two weeks helping her dismantle her beloved pottery studio. That means a loss of income as well as the joy of creating beautiful work.
Jill’s email sounded as though she was emotionally drained. Exhausted, not only because she is watching her friend deteriorate, but also because she knows that the death of her creativity is a larger indication that this woman’s journey has begun to speed up.
Jill is much more like Susan. She’s building a new spice business, breeding her horses, and is so busy she hardly has time to acknowledge the birthday gift I just sent her. She’s energetic and happy and fun and has boundless energy as she approaches 70 next month. Spring is baby time, when all the foals drop. There is no more joyful time of year for Jill, for whom her horses are her greatest love.
The woman who lives across the street from me is in her nineties. Her husband of more than 60 years died suddenly of an aneurysm during the winter of 2018. Since then, she’s spent oodles of time upgrading their big home, the kids are over constantly, and I hardly ever see her. But that’s not because she’s hiding in her house. She’s busy living.
What annoys Susan and me as athletes in our sixties are the inevitable aches, breaks, sprains and pains that accompany a very demanding life, but which are exacerbated by the simple fact of wear and tear. It’s not just that we suffer the expected injuries that any active athlete would sustain. An aging body presents a different set of challenges. No matter how well-oiled, well-exercised or well-fed we are, the body is still aging. The way we live is giving us far more options and better quality of life than many others who don’t eat well or exercise and are active in many different ways. We may be aging far more slowly but we are still aging.
As I have said elsewhere, you don’t have to be a serious athlete to be fit and healthy. Jill, while she’s been a lifelong swimmer and soccer player, works in her studio, which is very physically demanding. What is perhaps more essential is that she is mentally engaged, busy and doing what she loves.
She’s surrounded by friends, the horses she adores, and a large family. Emotionally she’s well-supported. To be frank, I could do a far better job of surrounding myself with beloved friends like Jill does, and I mean to put my heart into it, especially when I move to a new place.
It is bloody well damned hard enough to face the inevitable insults that an aging body hurls at us (nobody is immune to this, PERIOD). It’s far worse when we feel we’re doing it alone.
Those insults, which for my dime are some of the finest sources of hilarity available, are best shared with friends of like mind. Those who are willing to find the funny instead of weaving tales of woe about this or that body part that fell off, rolled away or decided to migrate elsewhere. The boobs that suddenly decided to sprout under our arms (can I have a bra with pit cups, please?). I’ve got more mini-boobs that my Honda Civic has cupholders. They don’t make Spanx for this.
People who spew their coffee when I tell them that the men on online dating sites who reach out to me have boobs bigger than mine.
That’s just funny.
Lots of things are. Bear with me here.
Our friends die. Our partners pass away. Sometimes we have to bury our kids. We have to bury our dogs, our cats, and put down our horses. We have to bury our smooth skin and slim waistlines and the closet full of clothing that we were going to wear once we finally lost that last 15 pounds. Then we gained ten more to boot. The pounds we lost just won’t stay buried and they bring their friends back with them.
My friend Sonja, she of the 22" inch waist, frustrated herself no end when that waist was lost to history. She had to redefine her (considerable) beauty in different ways as she has approached 60. She just got married last Sunday to a man who loved the beauty of the whole person, not a 22" waistline.
We have to take the time to mourn what passes into history and honor what those passages gave us. And know that there will be plenty more of those passages to come.
The longer we live, the more of these passages we will endure.
What is funny:
Our bodies do stupid things (um, honey, that wasn’t a fart). Warts pop up. Teeth fall out. Some of us need bras for the fronts AND backs of our bodies. Men, too. Some of us need bras for our chins.
An old boyfriend has such long nose hair he could braid it. He has nose hair like Scorsese’s got eyebrows. I swear one day they’re going to mate in the middle of his frown lines and have kids.
Our bodies refuse to behave in public places. We dribble down our shirts even when we’re not eating cracked crab in Maryland. For some of us we do that just thinking about food. (Is there a hot KK donut in the house? My hand is up) I don’t even need novocaine to be an accomplished drooler. Pavlov certainly didn’t need dogs prove the theory of conditioning. He just needed a blinking “Hot Donuts” sign.
How Do You Use the Time You Have?
Some of us answer the fake IRS and Microsoft calls every day because were just. that. bored. We’re happy to discuss the back braces we didn’t order, the 1% interest rate on our credit card debt, how our Social Security number is no longer any good. Look, that’s probably a lot more entertaining than watching original Criminal Minds episodes back when Mandy Patinkin still had a hairline.
Some start new businesses. Some go back to a beloved hobby or sport. It depends. The shorter our time, to me, it seems the less time we might want to spend it in grief, longing, pain or blame. One of the great gifts of getting a lot older (not, say, by turning thirty), is that we are far better able to move through the hurts that halt others for years on end.
People like Susan and Sonja and Jill, because they are active, can navigate those passages without ramming into a submerged reef of grief. These events are part of the price we pay for a long life. We run aground, most assuredly.
But we don’t let each other stay stranded.
Jill’s friend, because she is no longer busy, no longer creative and active, is stranded. It breaks Jill’s heart to see it, and mine to know of Jill’s sadness. Some folks want to stay that way, because it supports their version of the world. Jill knows when to back away. As might we all, for fear of having a drowning person drag us under.
There is no right or wrong implied here. Perhaps what I’m saying is that as we all age, and we choose to surround ourselves with those of like mind, what kind of like mind do we choose to be like? Susan and Jill and Sonja and I along with all our collective friends are not free of the mind-numbing hurts that hide along the way. No amount of good exercise, or good food, or life adventures provide us a hall pass from heartbreak.
What we can have is someone to soothe the journey. Make us laugh. Dab the wounds with numbing gel and make jokes about our sagging skin (what my dear friend Sonja referred to kindly as “texture” above my knees, when I asked for her opinion about an overly-short skirt).
Which is why I love her. She says what needs to be said without adding any additional damage to the delicate ego. I knew instantly that my mini-wearing days were over without being made to bleed about it. It’s joke fodder.
What we can have are people who remind us of who we are, how much life there is still to be lived, and how much we owe those coming up behind us an example of a life well-lived.
These are people who put down the down mattresses when we fall. These are the folks who fluff the pillows under our heads when we are out for the count for a while. Who poke our funny bones when we break one. Who serve us chicken soup when we crashed on ice trying to show how well our brand new boots worked. On the ice.
Got age? I’m talking real age here, as in at least over fifty.
Got friends? I’m talking the kind who do not let you waste one more moment crying when it’s time to get up and dance.
Got time? We all do. It’s more limited for some than for others. Either way, I’d say fill it with folks who help you head out with a bang.