Tag Archives: Aging

My Curmudgeon Speaks

Yesterday I drove a friend home from her chemotherapy appointment. She was starting a new regimen and wasn’t sure how she’d react to it, so she wasn’t sure she would be able to drive herself home.  I was grateful that I was able to help her, considering there isn’t much else that I can do to help her deal with having terminal cancer.  She, on the other hand, was sorry that she had to inconvenience me.  She is uncomfortable with the ways that cancer has forced her to rely on friends for help with stuff she used to be able to easily handle on her own.  I think anyone in her situation would be terrified of just how helpless they could become and how much they might have to rely on others to care for them and for their family before the whole thing would be over.

And you can’t really blame someone for feeling like that.

I don’t think anyone likes to ask for help from others. For some of us, asking for help makes us feel weak and incapable. Here in the US, we like to think of ourselves as independent and resourceful; we don’t rely on others, they rely on us.  How that equation is supposed to work is beyond me. If everyone relies only on themselves, then being reliable for others is impossible.  The math of this equation is beyond me, and I have two master’s degrees, so I’m not going to try and figure that one out. Instead, let’s deal with the assumptions that come with asking for help, one at a time.

Here we go, folks:

The truth is that humans are weak and incapable— every day, all the time, in one aspect or another of our life and health we humans are weak and incapable. Get used to it. No matter how healthy you are today, your body is ultimately frail and bound to fail.  Eventually we will all need the services of a surgeon, a physical therapist, a mental health counselor, an oncologist, a rheumatologist, or a neurologist (just to name a few.)  Eventually the frailty of our body will cause us to rely on our family, our friends, hired help, and even skilled nursing facilities just to be able to attend to our daily needs.  Our bodies are fascinating machines, capable of so much but they are also capable of terrible amounts of sickness, frailty, and failure.

Get used to it.  It isn’t a pleasant thought, but it is important to remember that birth is a terminal disease, as the mortality rate for human beings (as it is for all other living creatures) is 100%. If you are born, you will eventually die, and the majority of people will not come on their death suddenly but instead through a process of decline and increasing disability that will require the assistance of others in order to meet simple daily needs.

Having said that (rather bluntly…but I was hoping that we could talk turkey here on this blog)…

As a counselor, I frequently ask my clients why they have not asked friends and family for assistance when they are really struggling, and I get a host of reasons:

“I don’t want to be a bother.”

“I can never repay them for all their help.”

“I don’t want to be beholden to anyone.”

For my thoughts about the first one of those reasons, see the section above.  You will be a bother occasionally, and that’s the way life works. Get used to being human for the sake of everyone who loves you, please.

But what is our issue with needing to ‘repay’ the good that is done for us?

We seem to view assistance from others as if it is a loan we receive from the bank, requiring repayment with interest.  This is especially evident in the statement “I don’t want to be beholden to anyone.”  This betrays the belief that any assistance we receive is like a debt held over our head to be called in at random when it will be most painful or perhaps even destructive.

Folks…our friends and family members are not loan sharks lurking around, hoping that we’ll need something from them so that they can squeeze us later for whatever we’re worth. If the people who supposedly ‘love’ us behave like that, perhaps it’s time to consider finding a new group of friends and putting some distance between ourselves and our extended families, because there is no love in behavior like that.

The other thing that this attitude betrays is a transactional sense of friendship and love. “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.”  There is nothing wrong with reciprocity; it gets a lot done in this world. The thing about reciprocity is that it creates a closed system where you only ever give to someone who can give back in equal amounts.  The implication of such a system is that we often end up refusing to give to someone who cannot give back in equal amounts, and that puts service and random acts of kindness out in the cold. It also reduces all of our most loving relationships to simple transactions where we give only so that we can receive in kind.

And that seems to be a huge problem in our society these days: many of us refuse to give to others unless there is something explicit that we can receive in return.  And don’t start on me about how giving to others “feels good”, because the people who refuse to be beholden to others only give for the “good feeling” when their giving is to faceless others like the poverty-stricken folks in Africa.  It’s easy to give to faceless others, and so much harder to give or receive when the face before you is not only known, but in close relation to you; giving like that creates the emotional debt of “beholden-ness” that these people are trying so hard to avoid.

What would happen in the world if we simply abolished the concept of repayment when it comes to kind acts? What would happen if no one was ever beholden to the one who helped them?

I would remind you that Christ, who died so that we might know eternal life, did not expect a payback for his love or his sacrifice.  You cannot give God anything as God possesses everything.  God is not ever in need. Christ did, however, expect that we would take the grace and forgiveness that we received because of him and pass it on.  He asked that we go to all corners of the world, making disciples and teaching them everything that he taught us…basically he asked that we give away all that we’ve learned from him and all that we’ve received from him, and then teach the next recipient to pass it on just as we have.

Jesus…turns out he’s the guy who invented “Pay it Forward.”

Perhaps that’s the answer to our feelings of indebtedness when someone helps us. Don’t pay it back! Take the grace that we’ve been given and pay it forward to the next person who needs us. Give to others as we have been given to. Help others as we have been helped.  And give without thought of repayment because we have been given to by Jesus without any thought of repayment.

And when that day comes that we can no longer give to anyone—on the day that we find ourselves helpless to pay anything forward ever again—let us pay back the service we receive in humble thanks and genuine gratitude, something else that is in short supply these days.

Thank you for enduring my curmudgeonly frustrations.  It isn’t often that I want to use this space to rail against human foolishness.  You are a generous, giving reader and I intend to pay your kindness forward with a less curmudgeonly post shortly in the future.

That is all.

I Was Blind And Apparently I Still Am Blind

Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”  He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” The men who were traveling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank. Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” He answered, “Here I am, Lord.” The Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. At this moment he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength. For several days he was with the disciples in Damascus, and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.”         Acts 9:1-6, (7-20)

Lately I have been irritated with everything.  I have been irascible, difficult, quick to complain, and disdainful.  God only knows what my issue is…literally. God only knows, because I have no clue.  Lately I have been blaming it on menopause, and before that I blamed it on having too much on my plate, and before that on too many destabilized clients, and before that I was blaming menopause again. In the end, I have no idea why I am so unbelievably grumpy and unhappy, but that’s where I am and I am trying to be as accepting of myself as I can be, although I have to admit that I am getting tired of my bad mood.

Dear God, perhaps I am going through a second adolescence!

Okay…I got a giggle out of that idea, but in reality it is exactly how I feel.  To me, adolescence is a horrible time when children are forced to live in the strange in-between…that space where they want to be an adult but don’t really know how, where they want to have adult privileges but don’t want adult responsibilities, and where their body takes on the outside appearances of adulthood while their mind maintains the worldview of a child.  I remember it as a time when I felt entirely out of kilter, and I felt the same way when I watched my own children going through adolescence.  The funny thing is that we cannot move out of our own childhood and into adulthood without traveling the road of adolescence.  It isn’t just about our body’s need to mature; the entire process is a time of trying on new roles, new identities, new ways of thinking and behaving.  I think that is a part of why moodiness and negativity are such harbingers of adolescence: in order to take on new ways of being, first we must become unhappy with our current way of being.  In other words, everything has to suck before we are willing to let go of it and move onto something new.

Perhaps I am going through a second adolescence.

I am finding myself at that place in my life where I find myself asking “Why am I still doing this?”  I ask that about my habits, about my career, about my decisions, about almost everything except my husband.  Nothing seems to be as satisfying as it was five years ago.  I thought that it was just my own inner musings (and a heaping dose of hormones in flux) but then my massage therapist asked me how well I was sleeping.  I told her that I hadn’t been sleeping very well for a while, but assumed that it had to do with menopause (I blame it for everything these days) and then I asked her why she was asking.  She told me that I felt wrong to her, that there seemed to be something that I needed to let go of, something way down deep…perhaps soul deep.

Her statement gave me pause and I thought about what she said for the rest of my hour on the massage table.

I wonder if Saul wasn’t in the same position as he headed to Damascus.  Certainly he was doing what he thought was right, rooting out heretics (Christians) who continued to worship in the synagogues so that they could be brought condemned and executed for blasphemy.  And yet on the way to Damascus he found himself struck blind, confronted by the same Jesus whose followers he was bent on persecuting.

The funny thing is that when Saul, later calling himself Paul, tells this story to King Agrippa in Acts 26, he says something we often miss.  Paul tells Agrippa that when Jesus spoke to him:

I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It hurts you to kick against the goads.’  Acts 26:14b

“Kick against the goads” is a phrase we don’t use anymore, but it refers to an animal being goaded along by a sharp stick, like a cattle prod.  An animal kicking against the goads was refusing to accept the prompt it was being given, refusing to move…and sadly risking a great deal of pain, because kicking at something sharp is a really good way to get poked really hard and maybe even cut or stabbed.

Essentially, Paul was admitting that Jesus had been prodding at Paul for some time and that he had been refusing the prompts of the Lord to move along, to change, to accept what he was being shown.  Apparently Jesus had been poking at Paul for a while trying to get him to accept Jesus as Lord and stop persecuting the Christians, and when Paul didn’t listen, Jesus decided to go big and appear to Paul on the road to Damascus, striking Paul blind.

But wasn’t Paul blind the whole time?

After all, when something is prodding and poking at you, trying to get your attention, how blind do you have to be to miss it?  All of us have been there, where something was obvious to everyone but us, but we just didn’t manage to see it.  But then there comes to bigger blindness, when something keeps prodding and nudging us and we refuse to acknowledge it no matter how great the prompt.  As counselors we sometimes call that choosing to be blind.  Saul/Paul chose to be blind for so long that Jesus pulled out all the stops, simultaneously revealing himself to Paul and revealing Paul’s blindness.

Which brings me back to adolescence.

Adolescence is one long period of being goaded to change, to release childish self-focus and embrace accountability and responsibility for ourselves and others.  It is uncomfortable and only a child’s dissatisfaction with the restrictions of childhood can make them let go their old ways of being and embrace their emerging adult self.

Could it be that I am in a second adolescence?  Is God goading me to let go of my current ways of being, ways of being that are no longer useful or meaningful, ways of being that don’t reflect my advancing age, my changing role in my own family and in my community?  Is God letting me know that I’m not really attending to His will like I should? I don’t know.  But my lousy mood, my bad attitude, and my generalized dissatisfaction with my personal status quo just might be God trying to tell me to move on, to go where He is leading me.

“And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored.”        Acts 9:18a

I am waiting Lord.  Help me before something big shows me just how blind I have become.

Flu glorious flu!!! (sing with me…)

I promise you’ll understand the link between the title and the picture soon.  I promise.

1 Peter 1:24-25a

“All flesh is like grass
and all its glory like the flower of grass.
The grass withers,
and the flower falls,
but the word of the Lord endures forever.”

I had the flu last week.  Actually, I had flu minus, because I got my flu shot in August.  I am certain that last week would have been a giant disaster had I not gotten that flu shot because I would not want to be sicker than I was last week.  Believe me, there is nothing pleasant about a 100.6 degree fever, aches, chills, cough, and the incessant need to sleep.

Actually, I lie.  It was glorious!

I don’t slow down often, which is a mother’s euphemism for “I am ridiculously over-busy.”  My husband and my kids will tell you that I do way too much work for way too many people for way too little money.  I don’t disagree with them, but I’m not going to stop…unless I’m sick.

It used to be that being sick didn’t stop me either.  I was younger and stronger then, and the only illness that could keep me at home was the kind that could keep me locked in the bathroom.  If you can’t leave the bathroom you can’t really go to work.  Anything else: colds, bronchitis, walking pneumonia—it didn’t matter. If I wasn’t contagious, I went to work.  In my mind, I could be miserable at home and do nothing or be miserable at work and be productive.  At that point in my life I voted for productive.

And then I got older.

As I approached my 50th birthday, I remember deciding that to celebrate my 5th decade of life, I would train for and run a 5K race.  50 years, 5K…they just seemed to go together.  I started training for my 5K and things were looking good.  After a few weeks of alternating running and walking in shorter spurts, I managed to run my first mile without stopping.  I was feeling pretty good about things, so good that I decided that I would be ready to run my first 5K only a few weeks after my 50th birthday, which left me about 16 more weeks to train…and then I discovered something rather upsetting: you cannot run a mile if you cannot breathe.  Who knew?  Anyway, many doctor visits, two CT scans, one nasal scoping, two breathing tests, and a full set of allergy tests later (oy vey!) I discovered that I have lung issues, rather nasty seasonal allergies, and exercise induced asthma that gets really bad when my allergies are really bad…which is about 9 months out of the year.  Leave it to me to decide to start running during two of the only three months during the year when I don’t have bad allergies.

I’m 51 years old now, and I still haven’t run a 5K and I’m guessing that I’m not going to get to run a 5K. I came to peace with that not long after my 50th birthday, but it left me with no interesting way to celebrate my 5th decade of life.  I wanted to celebrate my 50th birthday by doing something that would illustrate my vitality, my continuing youth, and my growing strength despite my age.  But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I was heading in the wrong direction, mentally.

After all, when do I get to grow up?  Being 50 isn’t a bad thing—I still feel young, I still look young, or at least I still feel like I look young.  But when do I start working on the ‘mature woman’ thing?  What is that supposed to look like?  A few blog posts ago I wrote about the challenges involved with becoming aged and frail enough to require a caregiver  (see August 27).  There is a long, long road between where I am now as a 51 year old woman and being aged and frail, but it is a road and that implies journey.  In other words, I can’t get from where I am now to where I’ll be then without a process.

So how do I prepare myself now to become the aged and frail woman I will be then?  For me, that started by admitting that I can’t afford to keep working when I’m sick.

Remember those lung problems I mentioned earlier? They are most obvious to me whenever I get sick, because no matter what I get sick with, it goes to my chest and becomes bronchitis.  Colds become bronchitis; flu becomes bronchitis; sinus infections become bronchitis; ingrown toenails become bronchitis.  Okay…not really, but it’s almost that bad.  Last week I had the flu…this week I have bronchitis.  Seriously, I do.

So I decided that to celebrate my 5th decade of life, I would learn to value my own growing frailty, my aging process, and the reality that I am NOT ALL THAT I USED TO BE.  To celebrate my 50th birthday I would allow myself to be sick.  Doesn’t sound like much of a celebration, does it?  But it is…because in order to allow myself to be sick, I have to decide that my need for rest is more important than everyone else’s need for me to be on time, where I’m supposed to be, doing what I’m supposed to do.  In other words, I have decided that I am important enough to inconvenience others in order to take care of myself!  Maybe I should just say that I am important enough to inconvenience others.  It has been a lot of years since I last allowed myself to inconvenience anyone for any reason without feeling guilty.  I was sick with the flu last week, and I didn’t feel guilty at all.  How’s that for maturity?!

Like I said, it was glorious.  I haven’t had five days of rest and relaxation (without leaving the country on vacation) in years and years. I sat in my recliner in front of the TV and slept through episode after episode of Law & Order. I would run an errand and then come home and take a nap that took at least an hour longer than it took to run my errand.  I ate tomato soup and cheese toast and slept late in the mornings.  I didn’t get much of anything done and the world did not end.

It is a long road between where I am now and becoming a frail, old woman who needs a caretaker.  Somewhere along that journey I need to learn to accept my limitations with grace, instead of throwing a tantrum like some toddler who doesn’t want to be told ‘no.’  And so this year I choose to allow myself to be sick and I choose to call that my personal celebration of turning 50.  I have lived 5 decades and I have finally gained enough wisdom to know that I am worth being inconvenient.