Sliding Through the 40’s

Scene of the middle aged crime.

When I played football in high school, the coaches used to say we needed to sacrifice our bodies for the greater glory of the team.  This seemed the advice of fools, since I was there to be with my friends and gain the attention of young women rather than think I might shoot for the NFL. After the game, we would find a dark driveway to drink stolen beer from our dads laundry room stashes, and I’d tell them I had no intention of reaching my 40’s a hobbled cripple just for a few black and white photos in a high school annual. Little did I know that I would reach my 40’s a hobbled cripple anyway, and find myself trying all sorts of remedies from acupuncture to chiropracty, desperately clinging to a fading dignity.

The 40’s begin that process where father time not only reminds us we are mortal, but underscores the decade by making us revisit every physical mistake we ever made as teenagers.  Losing flexibility, receiving weekly neck adjustments, kitchen cabinets full of medications, and aching joints in every step become routine in the 40’s. Most of us, especially men, choose to meet this state with either a healthy dose of denial, or gradual process of acceptance. Thirty was a tough “psychological” milestone for me because I had to say goodbye to the party life of college while accepting dead office culture as a daily reality. Daydreams of retirement occupied more space and thought energy as exuberance drifted into apathy. Ten years hence, I’ve learned the forties are a physical phase; we’ve travelled, earned college degrees, joined yoga groups and explored ourselves enough to know who we are, but our bodies begin to tug at our mortality. It seems unfair, since it took us half our lives to get there.

The hardest part of this transition for me has been accepting the loss of my sense of balance. Scientifically, this is a natural part of the thickening of the fluid around the middle ear as we age, but when I found myself frequently bumping into things, stumbling over lawn furniture, and finding carnival rides more terrifying than fun, I knew that joining a city basketball league wasn’t going to alter the reality of my declining skills. And when pickle jar lids and potato chip bags became more wrestling match than food access, I really began to see my future.

Anything but age was on my mind a month ago as I laced up my big hiking boots for an adventure in the wilderness, readying myself to embrace a day of early morning sun and fun. My home was built in 1891, so the front steps are a steeper grade than most homes today, requiring one walk consciously as they move from level to level. I intended to join recent guests on the front lawn to pack up our supplies and locked the front door before skipping down the steps with anticipation. Unfortunately, my large-sized boots caused me to misplace a step too far forward and changed my center of gravity. I lost control and flailed around like a moth through a campfire, groping at the air until my ankle twisted and collapsed. Unfortunately, most men in their forties refuse to accept their age and would rather scratch at sideboards and mailboxes than accept an embarrassing fall in front of an audience. My devotion to this belief made me think I could still save the fall and caused me to step on the edge of a wash basin filled with flowers. I sent sheets of soil high into the air as I accentuated my fall even more; all was slow motion, but the only thing running through my mind on the journey toward concrete was a need to avoid swear words in the presence of my friend’s fifth grade daughter. I flew like a hammer, but hit with the thud of a sack of potatoes as I crunched my left hand and scraped my elbow and knee. There was no quick hop up from this colossal stumble, and I lay there a minute to assess the damage as everyone stared with stunned misunderstanding eyes. I gained my breath, but lost my dignity as I wondered on that cold patch of ground; if this is the fun I’m having now, what the hell will the 70’s be like?

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