I have a theory. I’d be interested in knowing if it makes sense to you. You see, I believe that most of us who have reached our October Years can accept and appreciate the subtle, often hard-won maturity we've gained in the course of our lifetime. That is a reality I try to reflect in my Tanner Chronicles stories. Moreover, I like to think those life-lessons, the challenges I have faced---some won, some lost---are a part of the person I've become. But if that is so, why hasn’t the maturity I claim for myself served me better?
The truth of course is highlighted by the sobering fact that mature or not, at age 78 I can no longer do some things that I once did. Most everything else I don’t do as well as before. Perhaps it’s a guy thing---how hard it is to accept the sad fact that self-esteem can no longer be won by doing what I do better than you or someone else does it. Of necessity, ego satisfaction has ceased to be a competitive endeavor. In my more lucid moments I remind myself that I must accept my limitations and concentrate on those activities I’m still able to do. (A list of candidates that seems to shrink by the day.)
Look, you and I have been around the block a time or two, and hopefully we’ve learned a few things along the way. Though our culture may not value “elder wisdom” the way some societies do, I know that I’ve gained a lot of know-how over the years. I’ll bet you have too. So, why don’t I pay more attention to what I’ve learned?
Example #1 -- I told this little story a couple years ago, certain that I had learned my lesson and would never have a reason to repeat it. The fact that I’m retelling it here gives you some idea of how well I listened to my own advice the first time.
My son’s request was simple enough. He needed an extra pair of hands to take down a storm window. He’d seen me do that a time or two. So when he ran into a two-man job he asked for my help. And why not? He had reason to believe that I knew what to do and how to do it safely.
True, the window was large---six feet by six feet, and heavy too---a bigger job than I normally tackle these days. But it was my son asking. He needed some help. Was I supposed to tell him his old man couldn’t handle that?
Long story short---when I tripped over the limb I should have seen lying there I let go of the frame and reached out to cushion my fall. I’m not sure how he did it, but Terry managed to brace himself and hold that heavy sheet of glass, wrapped only in a flimsy metal frame, upright. While I grumbled about a bruised hip and scraped knee he gave me precious seconds to get back on my feet and get hold of my end of the frame. Had he not been able to do that, I would have been wearing a sheet of broken glass around my neck.
Fast-forward a mere two months, to August 2013. It was a bright sunny morning. I was up on a ladder, painting the house. Suddenly, before I realized what was happening, I had fallen four or five feet and kissed the very-hard ground with my shoulder. I’ve recounted the resulting damages elsewhere -- broken ribs, broken clavicle, punctured lung, etc. Suffice to say, my recovery was long and painful. However, in the process I learned that pain is an effective teacher---but only if the student is ready to learn.
Fact is, some of us are slow learners. Why else would I have been stretched out on a hospital bed nine months later, wondering how to carry on with one good arm and one good leg? The doctor had just rendered his diagnosis---a fractured pelvis and broken arm. I would be on the mend for a few months. In the process of once again acting like a forty-five year old, life had sent me another learning experience.
In the face of such graphic and painful evidence, I am reminded again that our October Years need not be about giving up or admitting defeat---but they are a time for being realistic, for having the good sense not to attempt what may have been doable in times past, but not today.
It is a simple admission I’m talking about, a favor we owe ourself---straight-forward advice that shouldn’t be hard to follow. Except that is, when our ego feels the need to make a point, or a special someone asks for help, or you would rather a grandchild not hear the distressing news that Grandpa “doesn’t do that any more.” Though I rarely confess that “I can’t,” I am getting better at explaining that “I don’t.”
I guess that means I’m still learning---even at my age. And giving thanks every day for the caring prayers that surround me and the enabling help that Roma and Terry provide. What about you? Have you ever been in that "learning" space, that place where it pays to be extra careful? Are you still there? If so, I’d like to hear how you dealt with it. In the meantime, please be careful out there in October-land.