Carol Burnett once said something hilarious about getting old. Allow me to paraphrase. She said that she never felt like she was getting old. She never thought she looked old, but one day, while she was putting on her sweater, she saw her mother’s hand emerge from the sleeve. Suddenly, while looking at her own hand, with the age spots and purple veins, she realized that age had crept up on her; age had finally caught her.
There is a point in each of our lives when the certainty of our own advancing age hits us right between the eyes. It might be seeing your mother or father’s hand coming out of your sleeve. It might be a sideways glance at the bathroom mirror, where you see your grandfather’s nose and hairline superimposed on your own image.
Debbie and I have noticed that we are now making noises that we didn’t used to make. Without even realizing it, we have started making grunting-and-groaning noises whenever we get off the couch or step out of the car. Somewhat like Carol Burnett, the realization of our new tendency toward making old-folk noises came from an unexpected source.
Our almost 3-year-old grandson, Clayton, repeats just about everything he hears. Recently, Debbie noticed Clayton making the same grunts-and-groans that he hears us making. Debbie was a little shocked and said, “Wow, are we making those sounds?” It didn’t take long to realize. Yes. We are making a lot of old-folk sounds. Grunts and groans have become common sounds around the Riley Household.
I hit the ripe age of 65 last year. So, I started wondering. Besides the grunts-and-groans, what else am I doing that proves, beyond any doubt, that I have smacked head-first into old age? I started listening and paying attention to myself. Holy cow. I’m suddenly loaded with old-man traits.
Due to two lousy knees, I walk down stairs very gingerly – like an old man. My knees always hurt, but some days are worse than others. For the really bad days, I leave a cane at the bottom of our stairs to help me as I climb up and down. Part of my knee problems may be genetic. Mom has had knee problems for years.
Years of jogging probably didn’t help. I stopped jogging after my left knee was torn during a fall on the ski slopes of Steamboat Springs, Colorado. My right knee is by far the worst. It was literally ripped apart on the dance floor at a resort in the Bahamas. (Yes, you read that right.)
Limbo contests are taken seriously in the Bahamas. It was down to me and a skinny young girl. I should have walked away, but didn’t. I got as low as possible, but due to the angle, the torque, and the body weight, the knee ripped apart. Following surgery, my orthopedic surgeon told me that my knees are probably about 20 years older than me. I’m due for knee replacement surgery, but I’m putting that off as long as possible.
The latest old-man insult came a few weeks ago. I woke up with a stiff neck. Actually, the pain was fairly intense. It was a stabbing pain, but it felt like the knife had been left in place. It wouldn’t stop. Over-the-counter pain medication and ice packs helped, but the pain remained for several days.
“I think I slept wrong.” That’s what I told Debbie. Then I realized how dumb that sounded. When did I forget how to sleep right? When I was younger I could roll up into a ball anywhere, under any circumstance, fall asleep and wake up refreshed. Now, for some reason, that’s changed and I need a special pillow. At what point in my life did it become possible for me to “sleep wrong?”
OK, this 65-year-old body may be aging, but I refuse to give in. Despite the grunts and groans, I refuse to act old or think old. I want to think that I still have a lot of life left to enjoy. I am committed to enjoying life.
A few years ago, there was a commercial for a life insurance company that I liked. Basically, it said, “Sharks live in every ocean, but we still swim and enjoy the beach. Lightning strikes somewhere in the world, but we still like to play in the rain. Many bad things can happen. However, the bad things in life can’t stop us from enjoying a full life; from making our lives good.” Amen to that.
The joy of life doesn’t come from sitting in a chair, it comes from getting up and doing something. Joy doesn’t come from sitting in a car. It comes from driving the car to explore new places; visit family and friends; to drive to a soccer game or football game where grandkids are running and playing the games we used to play.
There is joy in every day. Sometimes we just need to grunt and groan a little to find the joy that awaits us.
Randy Riley is President of Council of Wilmington.