I would like to lose 10 pounds.
I just ate 14 homemade chocolate-chunk cookies with walnuts.
Do these two concepts (well, one is a concept, the other a fact) sound
a) familiar? and b) counter-productive?
In truth, I am in the throes of an identity crisis, probably my fourth or fifth, since I am in the autumn of my seventh decade.
From where I stand, the future looks as if it’s going to be a continuous struggle just to maintain my body integrity. And the past is … well, the past: over, irretrievable, kaput.
The cookies are a coping strategy, albeit a self-destructive one, to deal with the realization that I am getting old. The slinky negligee in my lingerie drawer is starting to yellow.
How this could be happening to me … to ME … is beyond my understanding. I have a child who is 42, but that just doesn’t add up, since I think I’m only 45.
Okay, it’s true that I have what my dermatologist has termed “senile keratoses” covering my hands and spotting my face – indelible signs of too many teenage years sunbathing with Johnson’s baby oil and a sun reflector. And I do hear an eerie, creaking sound upon rising after a rather spotty night of non-sleep, which I’m told is just my ol’ bones’ way of notifying me that their persistently stiff joints need to be oiled.
I’ve noticed I’m actually becoming my mother.
I confess I now spend a fair amount of time remembering who I used to be: a slim, energetic person who taught fitness classes in my 30s and took dance classes four or five times a week throughout my 40s and 50s. It is shocking to me that I actually have that many decades to name here. I always thought this accumulation of years belonged to old people.
Although modern medicine informs me that my decline began with my birth, my awareness of its insidious nature sideswiped me when my sweet husband died at the age of 54, leaving me to grieve and howl and then sew myself back together again.
It took a lot out of me, but I decided that since I could conceivably go on for 30 or 40 more years, I might as well do a good job of it.
So I took a while to focus on living again, losing the 25 mourning pounds, returning to the gym, where I achieved my best level of fitness since I had been six. I even dared to to try trapezing and the dreaded travelling alone.
All in all, I made pretty good progress considering my bereft self had to be dragged reluctantly along.
Fifteen years passed. I met a wonderful, caring partner. We moved into a beautiful apartment with lots of trees out the windows. I was just feeling myself get a foothold again when my only sibling, my beautiful sister, was diagnosed with a terminal illness and finally succumbed to it nine months ago.
A host of familiar visceral images resurfaced: the horror of the devastation of a dying body; the declaring of the last goodbye; the fear of impending loneliness; the knowledge that the only witness of my childhood was departing with all our shared memories.
Every passage has its challenges, but despite our best efforts to overcome them, we can never win. Senile keratoses can become cancers, and noisy joints can be so arthritic that eventually you need assisted-living care and maybe even a crane to get you out of bed in the morning.
I don’t mean to depress you. But as a bona fide member of the human collective, why should I have to bear my depression alone?
I would like to end this somewhat controlled tirade on an upbeat note. But I’m afraid the awful truth is that there is nothing upbeat about getting old. Some days, what has euphemistically been called the “alternative” seems pretty seductive. (Let’s hear it for living wills! For euthanasia! For they shoot horses don’t they?)
We may try to recover from our past experiences as they collude to mow us down. We may try to fend off what we all know is going to happen to every single one of us in the future: so we exercise and diet, have colonoscopies and MRIs, retreat to mountaintops in the Himalayas, take Viagra and Vitamin B complex, and do a little downward dogging.
But whether looking back or looking forward, I am being forced to give up the fantasy that time is on my side (no, it isn’t) because, in truth, it’s closin’ time.
We don’t always get what we want. I want to lose those 10 pounds. But I also want to eat those chocolate-chunk cookies. One is hard to do, the other easy. I tell myself that at this stage of my life I should do what’s easy.
So, when the late Nora Ephron, in her essay about getting old, wrote (evidently with me in mind), “And where do carbohydrates fit into all this?” I would say to her spirit: “Go for it!”
As those smart Buddhists have been telling us for centuries, right now is the only thing we can truly know. And right now what I know is that I have eight more chocolate-chunk cookies in a tin I hid from myself under my control-top pantyhose at the back of the lingerie drawer.
Bonnie Brotman Shore lives in Montreal.
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