Yesterday, I got an invitation in the mail from the AARP (American Association of Retired Persons) to join up – just $16 for a year’s membership – complete with a couple of fake cards for me to “keep in my records.” If I pay them some money, they’ll send me my real AARP cards and I can be a bona fide card-carrying member, eligible to receive their magazine and get all sorts of great discounts and deals.
Cool, right? Except I’m only 53 and a half, guys. I’m … I’m not a senior citizen!
My late grandparents were true senior citizens, complete with wrinkles, too much perfume, gray hair and big ears. My mother is a genuine senior citizen. She’s 77 and a half, very healthy and honestly, she looks no more than 60 to me. She has a great figure. My Dad was a senior, but he looked a lot younger than he was, too. He’d have been 82 last month if he hadn’t died from a freak bump on the head in 2005. He was basically healthy as a horse, strong and active, played golf several times a week, and had been on blood thinners for many years because of heart problems. He’d survived two separate heart valve replacements over the course of 20 years. But when he bumped his head that day, it caused a massive bleed into his brain, thanks to the coumadin. His time was up. Even almost five years after his death, it still shocks me.
So what is it, exactly, that makes us officially old? That letter from the AARP?
See, in my mind I’m the same person I was when I was 10: I’m gifted with a vivid, visual imagination that manifests itself most often in writing and drawing. I’m blonde and blue-eyed; rather tongue-tied and uncomfortable in social situations; I’m a gawky, average-sized person who loves animals and birds and star-gazing; and I’m smart, even if I’m terrible at arithmetic. I’m a whole lot tougher and braver than I look. I can be aggravatingly stubborn. I’m empathetic, loving, forgiving to a fault and compassionate, and I’m never quite convinced that I’m good enough. At anything.
That was me at 10 and it’s still me four decades, a few years and six months later. Sure, I’ve learned a lot since I was a child. Some of the lessons were very hard, but I wouldn’t change anything I did or didn’t do, looking back. I’m wiser than I was 10 years ago and a whole lot wiser than I was 30 years ago. I like me.
The most important thing I’ve learned is that I will never stop learning and will never, ever know everything, even though I did when I was 20.
I’ll concede that my body has changed. I can’t do some of the physical things I once could. I’ve had rheuma since I was 31 – practically a child! – and age has nothing to do with that. I have crinkles at the corners of my eyes and after losing 50 pounds last year, I discovered crepey skin on my neck and hands that hadn’t been there before because it was all puffed up with fat. This year, my hands started looking old to me, which is rather disconcerting, but they’re still good hands. I find gray hair not on my head but in my eyebrows, of all places. The still-blonde hair on my head is falling out and thinning alarmingly, it’s true. That’s not because I’m old, though. It’s just a side-effect of one of my rheuma meds.
And yes, even moderate exercise tires me out quite a lot faster than it used to. Once again, I blame that on RA, the bugger. Being physically un-fit doesn’t help, either. If I was fitter – and I’m determined that I will be, soon – I’ll bet I can run and jump just like the 10-year-old me once did. What fun that will be! Really, all it will take is some steady exercise, another 30 pounds of weight loss, and a whole lot of imagination. Those first two will be a real challenge, but the last will be dead easy for me.
As of today, I’m four pounds lighter on my feet than I was at this time last week. I feel better overall. My pants aren’t as tight. Yes, there’s a price. I didn’t get to eat pizza and I spent a fair number of days after walking quite sore and loose-jointed. But it’s already getting easier.
In the previous post, I linked to a man and his thoughts about healing, incurable illness, disability and living well. He’s a year older than I am. He’s got good Finnish blood and sisu* running in his veins, just like I do, except he has a bit more of the first. We’re dead even on the second. He’s lived his whole life with a disability – he’s blind – but he lives well both because of it and in spite of it. He likes the word “tempered” when it comes to describing himself. He knows he’s incredibly tough and resilient, his strength of body and mind forged in the fires of personal hardship. He has never allowed his disability slow him down much; instead he’s honed his talent with imagination and words into utterly exquisite prose and poetry. Stephen Kuusisto inspires me and others all over the world to do the same.
My body is getting older, but my mind remains very young. They’re both tempered. It’s a good thing.
*Sisu is a Finnish word I learned as a child (one of the very few Finnish words that survived from my great-grandmother, who emigrated to Canada from Finland as a very young woman. I was told it meant, basically, perseverance. Wikipedia goes further, though. Sisu, loosely translated, “means strength of will, determination, perseverance, and acting rationally in the face of adversity. However, the word is widely considered to lack a proper translation into any language. Sisu has been described as being integral to understanding Finnish culture. The literal meaning is equivalent in English to “having guts”, and the word derives from sisus, which means something inner or interior. However sisu is defined by a long-term element in it; it is not momentary courage, but the ability to sustain an action against the odds. Deciding on a course of action and the sticking to that decision against repeated failures is sisu.”