Sunday, April 17, 2016

At the End of the Limb

 While this illustration might more often relate to starting an adventure without thinking about where it takes you, or how it ends -- something akin to painting yourself into a corner -- it also relates to aging.  Getting old, being old.  For who thinks of arthrities when we are nine years old and eating cotton candy at the church fair? Lately I'm glimpsing the place where the cartoon character Lio finds himself: near the end with someone else holding the end of the pen, with that invisible hand writing where I'll go from here.

I have felt for some time like I just can't get my sea legs in my life and I'm missing that feeling of being on top of things, in control of the fates -- although the way everything is hyper-analyzed to death these days, the argument could be made that I never have been in control of anything that happened.  But I felt in control.  Or maybe that's the older me looking back at the younger me.  Surely couldn't have been the nights I was up with a child who had an earache and I desperately wanted sleep but couldn't lay them down, even after dosing them up with pain meds.  Or it couldn't have been when I was in the Divorce Tilt-A-Whirl, as I let go of the center and careened around the track in nauseating spirals.  The rational, older me knows that the feeling like I was in control was an illusion, but the side of me that wants to feel better about things just knows at some point I was master of my ship.

I mentioned to my 87-year-old mother that I was old and almost before I finished the statement, she retorted that "You're not old!" But the problem is, if I'm not old, what am I?  I don't feel 40.  Or 17.  Or even 55. And the government would give me money if I asked them for it, proving that I must be old enough.   Her genial insistence that I wasn't old left me frustrated with nowhere to be, unable to find my place, to figure out my tasks and why aches are a part of my day, and forgetting a part of the mental landscape. I can't figure it out, can't seem to get a rhythm going.

My father is ninety and when I think about feeling this disoriented for another three decades, I feel worse than ever.  Some time ago the fiction I tell myself was that I was sailing on through life, feeling pretty good about things, then it was cancer, then surgeries, the body failing me in too many ways, but nothing so serious that would warrant sympathies on Facebook or a headline in the news.  Just garden-variety, life-and-energy-sapping, getting old sorts of ways.  The fact that I am surrounded by friends and loved ones enduring sad news, deaths, cancer, divorce, infidelity and illness doesn't help much.

For now I see the endings sometimes almost before the beginnings, and internalize the struggles before the fight has even been defined.  At my age, every step onto that sawed off trunk now carries with it the ink pen of the ending.  It could be the beginning of another delightful experience, or an abstruse journey of near falls, scrapes and injury along with a requisite sprinkling of good cheer.

Or...not.

2 comments:

Judy said...

Maybe that's what your love of quilting is partly about--that sense of control over what happens to the fabric, how it becomes a design of your own creation, how the colors make the design even better. Quilting is the perfect antidote for aging, right?

Laura Links said...

Well, you've left me wordless. And given me a lot to think about...
My parents are 81 and 85, so I imagine we're of the same generation.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts!