I don’t mean to sound cranky, but this getting old business is quickly getting old.
Do the aches and pains ever leave? When I’m at the cottage, I look at the 12 steps leading up to what once was my bedroom and just shake my head. “Unbelievable,” I tell my 80-year-old arthritic self. “If someone offered me a million bucks to climb those stairs, I couldn’t do it.”
How did it come to this? Even rising from a chair, a couch or a toilet seat is a challenge. A bar stool, not so much, especially after your fifth vodka. But don’t even think about a hammock or bean bag. Once up, the job’s only half done: a big stretch is required before taking your first painful, tentative step. After that, all bets are off.
Communicating with others also isn’t what it used to be. A five-minute conversation wouldn’t be complete without the parties repeatedly interrupting each other with “how about speaking louder?” and “well, gotta go … and, by the way, when did you last shower?”
So that’s where that musky smell was coming from: right under my nose.
No wonder seniors spend so much time alone. And what do we do? We read all manner of books and also magazines featuring topics like gardening and self-improvement, even though we’re too old to change. We self-diagnose with health journals and old Readers Digest issues. We use our computers mostly for emails, but our more inquisitive elders check out the obits daily, and even read the messages of condolence. It’s almost a guilty pleasure.
We love television, especially shows like Antiques Road Show, even if we keep losing our remotes between the arm of our couch and a pillow. If you’re like me, you eat in front of the tube so the remote usually feels as sticky as cotton candy. We watch the weather channel, and compare every meteorologist to Percy Saltzman. For most of us, it was the last time we saw a piece of chalk.
Our social life consists mostly of doctor’s appointments and meeting our fellow cronies at local malls or Tim Hortons. No subject is off limits, although sometimes someone will cross the line. Like the fellow who described the mild flirtation he enjoyed with his partner while line dancing. Who knew you could do that in a wheelchair? That’s when the subject automatically turns to Viagra. Let the bragging begin.
Then there are the growing number of funerals we attend. That means reuniting with many people you haven’t seen in ages — and the passing years aren’t always kind. Everyone appears so much older, which is to be expected. In fact, sometimes the deceased is the best-looking person in the room.
And, yes, count me among those who look like they’re on their last legs. I looked so fragile at one funeral that, out of the corner of my eye, I think I caught one of the funeral home’s employees sizing me up for a casket. But if they want me as a customer, they have to urn it because, for me, cremation is the way to go.
Just as unsettling, when I was leaving my last funeral, an old friend thought the person sitting beside me during the service was my caregiver.
Going to funerals also reminds us our own mortality, as if we didn’t already obsess about it. We wonder what happens when we die. Is there a God? Is there heaven or hell? Or do we simply cease to exist?
And that’s where disorganized religion comes in … and I get slightly off track.
Although I’ll die a Catholic, about two months ago I almost joined the Jehovah’s Witnesses after two of their female members, clutching Bibles, visited me at my cottage in the Laurentians.
When I heard their footsteps on my stairs, I quickly turned off the Playboy Channel and geared myself for a heated religious debate. But first things first: I’d unnerve them by NOT slamming the door in their face. That happens to them so often, they might even think it was a miracle.
Then I immediately went into attack mode. Before either of them could say Watchtower, I said, “Look, you’re wasting you time here. I don’t believe in religions, but I do believe in a God who created us. I mean, if He didn’t create us, it means we were created by what? Materials? And yet here I am with free will and the ability to reason; in other words, a soul.”
Then it was their turn.
First, they asked me what I thought about law and order. “Not a bad show,” I said. “In fact, I still watch reruns.”
Then, quoting the Bible, they described a heaven that is ruled by 144,000 elite Witnesses. They told me there was no such thing as hell and that the end was near — and they weren’t referring to our conversation. That was fine with me because I was enjoying their company. These were nice people; in fact, It’s hard to imagine them shunning anyone, which is what Witnesses do to members who go astray or quit the church. I wanted to say it sounds a lot like a cult, but why spoil the moment?
In fact, we became quite chummy before the end of their half-hour visit, even though their persistence was exhausting. They just never back down. It was a hot afternoon, and as they were about to leave my doorstep, one of the women politely asked me for a glass of cold water. I decided I’d get the last laugh.
“You’re 79 years too late,” I said. “I’ve already been baptized.”