My mother limped from the van to the 10 or more steps leading to her front door in Indiana, and taking one step at a time, thinking out loud, “Good leg up, bad leg down, or was it bad leg up and good leg down?”
I stood patiently behind her, unable to help, because like her, I persistently invert left and right in mind and out of mouth, and I couldn’t remember.
Silently I thought, “I may be limping out of hip surgery one day.”
My father, sighed and thrashed through the night on his sailboat during a calm, humid night in Luperon, Dominican Republic. When I asked if he was OK, he said he was fine, just in a little bit of pain, and he took his meds so he would be OK in a little bit.
When it comes to pain and suffering, both my parents downplay the reality of what they feel. They were taught to “suck it up Buttercup” as my Dad would say.
When my lower back aches in the middle of the night, or early in the morning, as I stretch out the kinks and wait for the relief that inevitably sweeps down my spine. I am reminded of the pain my parents feel in their joints, shown in swollen ankles or fingers, slight or pronounced limps, and curses under their deep and frustrated sighs.
They live in different worlds and take their aging in different ways. I see how time is already taking its toll on my body, squeezing its clamps on my muscles and challenging me with every twist and turn as if in a jousting dual.
“En garde!” I say to my hip flexor, and it stabs me and laughs when my face twists into a grimace.
Rest for the aging is a silent and deadly parasite — rest is like a breeding season for age, and when you rouse from it after a week or two, it may take months to get back to wherever you were before you rested.
Looking at my parents, I see what they did and did not do. I know what joints have been replaced, and that back, knee and hip issues are common on both sides of my DNA strands.
While my parents have had their share of surgeries, and struggle with the aches and pains of aging bodies, neither one of them live sedentary lives.
My mother, at 70 years old, still runs and operates her pest management business. She checks the glue boards and inspects cracks and crevices. When not working, she works around her house, shops, attends various cultural events and regular toastmaster meetings.
My father, who is 72 years old, lives alone on his boat in the Dominican Republic. He is a sailor who takes his boat out whenever he can and does a lot of the work on it either himself or with the help of a friend or hired hand.
Both my parents rest when they need to, but they never stay down.
They are people of action. They have taught me that hard work is the only way to get where you want to go.
They taught me to wipe my tears, or cry as I go, but never rest so long in the mire of your own misery that time steals from you your dreams.
Do they have regrets? I am sure they do. We all do, no matter how hard we try to make decisions we will not regret. But they are accomplished people in an unforgiving world. They were underdogs who rose to the top — defined the top on their own terms, and live there still, no matter what aches and pains time tries to fester inside them.
I try to learn from their mistakes and accomplishments: I do not drink or smoke, I listen to my body and take action to address its early-warning cries (to avoid greater aches and pains later I hope), I rest, but not for too long, and I push my body to do a little more than it wants to so it won’t clamp up on me as I creep into the beginning of the next half of my life.
Stories of healthy people dying of a sudden and unexpected heart attack will not deter me from putting a healthy lifestyle at the forefront of my existence. I am about living a relatively pain-free life, and what is fun to me is not fun to a lot of people. I am OK with this truth.
Sometimes watching people drink themselves into an early grave, or create indentations in the couch from overuse saddens me. I have to remind myself that we all make choices, and so long as we own our choices, we really have little say in what others choose to do with the lives they have been given.
Even though I live a cautiously adventurous life, boring to some, exciting to others, I am happy with my choices and efforts. I like where I am and where I am going.
Whether we consciously or unconsciously choose our own paths, we have no one to blame or thank for our “lots in life” other than ourselves. My parents understand this truth, and they have helped me to understand it too.