I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Rainbows over my head

Diane, Jonelle, me, Jacqueline
Rita took this picture of us last Thursday on our hike to Noisy Creek south of Bellingham. It was a pretty wonderful day, actually, and when I looked carefully at this picture, I saw that rainbows were captured from the cascading creek. You have to look closely right at the top of the picture, above my head. Rainbows. We also heard lots of birds, saw a couple of toads for wildlife, crossed several streams, and enjoyed a nice lunch before heading back. A good day.

I almost called this post "Taking Inventory," because I'm realizing this morning, in the middle of May 2014, that it's time to do that. But the idea of rainbows seemed much more interesting to me. On Thursday, the eight of us piled into two cars and chatted as we made our way back to the Senior Center, more than an hour away. After we arrived, I had difficulty getting out of the car: my body was so tired and sore after the ten-mile hike that it didn't want to work. I hobbled over to my own car and made my way home. Same thing: after parking my car, I had to gradually work my muscles into moving mode before I could make it up the steps to the apartment.

When I was young, I well remember watching old people walk, that careful gait as if something might break if they were to move too quickly. I'm in a much better place today for understanding what they felt. I can still pretty much do everything I want to do, but the aftermath is entirely different these days. Although it's humorous to think of old folks moaning and groaning as they hold their backs and lean on their canes (or hiking poles), it's part and parcel of the aging process.

The inventory I was referring to is the state of my condition. It's possible for me to begin to obsess on how much longer I will be able to continue to carry out my activities, or instead, I can think of the beautiful places and rainbows that I will be able to enjoy today. When we moved here six years ago, I had just entered into retirement from a career I enjoyed, and it never occurred to me that I might create a lifestyle that could be every bit as full and satisfying, but you know, it is.

On Friday, the day after the hike, I went to my usual exercise class, because I knew that the moving and stretching of the class would make my bones feel much better, and that's exactly what happened. I wasn't completely recovered, but yesterday morning I felt good enough to go out with the walking club. I knew it would be a hilly six-mile brisk walk and wasn't really sure whether I would be up to it. When I arrived, I decided I would walk at the back of the group and not try to keep up with the faster walkers. There were sixteen women, all well known to me now, and I knew which ones would keep a decent but not blistering pace. It worked out just as I hoped.

What amazed me is that I was able to walk almost as fast as usual. After gathering for coffee, I noticed that as I rose to leave, I had to stand up slowly to get things moving again. It's beginning to feel almost normal, to ease myself into movement after some strenuous activity. My left knee is still giving me problems, but it's definitely better than it was a few months ago, and I carry the knee brace but usually don't need to use it. It does make some rather disconcerting pops and clicks in the morning before I get going, but there is little discomfort any more. So that's a plus.

Today, Sunday, is my day off from exercise, and other than some gardening and perhaps a visit to the gym for the steam bath or sauna, I'll take it easy. The difference these days is that I don't ever expect to be pain free any more. If I need to take an ibuprofen or two, I don't figure that's too bad, but I really do try to keep the pain meds to a minimum. I know myself too well: if it doesn't hurt, I'll push myself too far, so I pay attention to the state of my physical self.

There are three parts to my state: physical (I've covered that pretty well), mental, and spiritual. Mentally, I am pleased to notice that I seem to be in a holding pattern as far as being able to remember names and faces, with no discernible decline in my ability to carry out intelligent conversations. Apparently physical activity is one way to keep the mind agile, even as the body becomes less so. That's another plus.

And spiritual? My spiritual life seems to be expanding as my physical life declines. I'm reading a couple of good books about end-of-life issues (Tuesdays with Morrie and The December Project), both of which are memoirs that discuss those aspects we must all deal with as we approach the final act of life. These are not books that I sit down and devour, but ones that make me pause and think, ponder what I really want to accomplish in the time that remains to me. Of course, both of the people who are the focus of these two books were much older than I am now. Those years will pass quickly, though, and I definitely want to make the best use of them that I can.

Okay, I've done it: a full inventory of the three aspects of my life that I needed to think about. And I'm pretty happy with what I found. Of course, another very important part of my life is completely virtual: this connection I share with you through the Internet, through blogging. My friends around the world touch me through this connection and enrich my existence immeasurably. Thank you for being part of my life.


Anonymous said...

I read Tuesdays with Morrie and also saw the movie. It was a very touching story.
You seem like an exercise fanatic. Perhaps, you should slow down a bit, like exercise once a week? Lol. But, you know yourself better than anybody else, so go with the flow.

Rian said...

DJan, I agree with your assessment of growing older... physically, mentally, and spiritually. I do think that you *push* yourself physically. But you are aware of this and as long as the benefits from the activity outweigh any physical discomfits, you should enjoy it while you can. You seem to have created a wonderful lifestyle that will keep you happy and engaged as you enter (and go thru) those *golden* years.

Linda Reeder said...

Now that I am back to pretty much full activity post back surgery, I am also back to experiencing that need to stand and settle before being able to walk after sitting. At least the pain of sciatica is gone! I am not allowed to have any anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) for another three months, so I am aware of all of my aches and pains. I push myself physically too, in different ways than you, but the result is the same. We keep moving so that we can!
The exercise also helps me emotionally, lifts my spirits, since I tend to have low days.
You have created a wonderful new life there in Bellingham and you are in inspiration to many of us.

Far Side of Fifty said...

Good to hear you have all your marbles too! I think just about everyone older has to stretch and take a minute after sitting for awhile in the car or anyplace else. I hate to take Aleeve too..or Ecotrin...but I do when I can't stand it any longer:)

Elephant's Child said...

I loved Tuesdays with Morrie. And your zest for life. Pain? Not fun, but usually a good reminder.

Arkansas Patti said...

Is there anyway you can dial it back just a bit? Ten mile hikes with incline are rough on a body. I'm sure there are folks in your group that are in the same stage you are and might appreciate a dial back. Check them out and maybe start a new group with a lesser but still an active program.
I use to have the "settle before moving" syndrome also. I would complain that I left my car like I was ninety and returned to it like I was nineteen. Now days I am religious with glucosamine and chondroitin soft chews and I no longer have ANY of those stiff spells. Good luck.

Red said...

Okay on the stiffening. This ha been a big problem for me this year. Getting up from a chair is a challenge. Two steps and I'm away. I've been to physio and I'm determined to lick the stiffening.
I read Tuesdays with Morrie. I got a lot out of it. It's well worth reading.
However we do have to accept the inevitable and learn to live with it.

Big Sister said...

You description of pain and stiffness when attempting to stand and walk after exercise or sitting, is spot on, and such an encouragement....I was starting to wonder if something was seriously wrong....thank you for your always well written and timely words...this is not the first time I've received comfort from them, and a kick in the pants reminder to get moving! You are appreciated. Always look forward to your photos too. Catherine

Linda Myers said...

Good description of the first few steps after getting up! I must say it's nice to know I'm not the only one.

troutbirder said...

Been there. Do that....: And then keep going. Its the mental part of my new caretaker role though that gives me the most trouble though.

Weekend-Windup said...

You four looks smart. Age doesn't matter to do work and achievements!

Retired English Teacher said...

I hear ya. I have pain from sciatica that slows me down when I have a flare up. I find it difficult to sit. I can get up and about ok, it is the sitting that gets me. Aging has its challenges. I will take it over the alternative though. Mostly, if I can get the sciatica pain under control, which generally means a visit to the chiropractor and exercises, I don't have any other pain, so I am blessed in that way. I think the key is: keep moving.

Glenda C. Beall said...

DJan, you still amaze me with all your activities. I really enjoy your readers' comments as they reflect much of what I deal with as far as pain and discomfort brought on by the passing of years. At this time, my back and leg pain has crimped my style, but I hope to do as you do and carry on with what I enjoy doing.

Friko said...

I think you’re doing fine. I also think it is important not to push beyond one’s limits, something might go wrong which the body cannot repair, creating problems for the future.

But you are aware of your limitations and easing yourself into renewed movement is definitely helpful. I have to do it all the time, otherwise there’s pain.

We mustn’t give up, maybe stretch a little but not kill ourselves in the process.

And enjoy everything we do.

Joyful said...

Good for you for taking inventory. We all need to do that at some point but some are better able to do it than others. You sound like you know how to keep a good balance.