I remember being young and indestructible. While never a prime physical specimen with a body of chiseled marble, I have always been capable of at least moderate physical labor and activity. Aside from maybe that 50th push-up (alright, 20th), when I asked my body to do something taxing, it responded with a “Yes, please! May I have another?” All of its parts, internal and external, were in perfect working order and a visit to the doctor was a simple “turn your head and cough” and little else. My nimble and sturdy physique allowed me to roll around on the ground with my children, launch them towards the sky while standing hip-deep in swimming pools, dive to the ground to catch their errant throws or badminton volleys, and remain standing after chasing them around the house.Then I turned 40.
It was a few years ago, but I still remember lying awake at 11:59 the night before and then suddenly hearing an internal toggle switch over as the day turned. As if my warranty had suddenly expired. In one instant I went from able-bodied young stud in his 30s to a hobbled, fragile, middle-aged man.
One simple example. When I was about 35 or so, I twisted my ankle something fierce sliding into third base (I was safe). It swelled up like a bowling ball, turned so many different shades of dark colors it resembled something from Picasso’s blue period, and sent waves of pain rocketing through my leg if you so much as looked at it. X-rays proved negative, but I was on crutches for three or four weeks. Finally, maybe six weeks later, it had healed and I was back on my feet none the worse for wear.
Flash forward to this past May, and I twisted my ankle (the other one) while mowing the lawn. Stop laughing. Anyway, it swelled up so that it resembled a pink golf ball and more or less stayed that way. I was never on crutches, though I did wrap it for a couple of days. It still hurts.
Adding insult to injury, at the same time I injured one ankle, the other foot suddenly decided that its achilles tendon was tired (remember all of that running I was doing?). My doctor told me there is nothing I can do but wait months for it to stop hurting. So now I wake up every morning and spend a couple of minutes wobbling in pain before my ankles will agree to support my weight for the day. Needless to say my very public declaration to run has been dealt an embarrassing blow.
Then last month, something equally embarrassing began to happen with some of my inner workings. A quick call to the doctor (where I didn’t even get to turn and cough) produced some hmms of interest and I found myself signed up for one those minor, multisyllabic procedures often used as ‘fishing expeditions’ into the state of one’s health. I am loathe to name the procedure because (a) it’s one of those procedures I always thought only old people underwent and (b) I’ll probably spell it wrong, When did I get old?
Oh, and as I write this, the back of my hand is puffy and itchy from a bee sting I got three days ago. I have been stung by bees many times in my life, and I have never had one bother me for more than 24 hours.
And of course I chipped a tooth a few months ago doing absolutely nothing. I wasn’t eating, I wasn’t grinding my teeth, I wasn’t pretending to be a velociraptor or anything. My tongue just noticed an odd looseness on the back of the tooth one day and when it investigated, a chunk of my tooth just popped out of my mouth.
I’m falling apart.
And it’s not just me. A friend of mine who is a total health nut, runs triathlons and can take his shirt off at the beach and not feel self-conscious, turned 40 a couple of years ago and his body more or less shut down for 12 months. One thing after another went wrong starting with his back and then his gut and then his leg or ankle and I think something herniated or something. I forget. The point is he went from a strapping vision of healthy manhood to doddering, rickety old fart overnight.
I don’t remember signing up for this. Maybe there was some fine print somewhere that talked about my body systematically giving up at some point that I missed, but I’d always assumed that it would do what I asked without question until the day I died. But the body has other ideas, like it knows once it passes 40 it’s no longer liable under the Lemon Law so it can quit pretending to care.
It would be easy to search for meaning in my slow disintegration. Live life to the fullest while you can because you never know what disaster tomorrow will bring. Take care of your body because it’s the only one you have until they invent mind-transfer technology. Don’t brag to the entire population of the Rivertowns about all the running you’re going to do because your ankles may buckle from the pressure of raised expectations.
But I think the real lesson to be learned here is that growing old sucks.
It’s a natural part of life, and everyone ages, and eventually you get cheaper movie tickets and so forth, but a person who turns 40 or 50 or 30 or 75 needs to remember that as young as they feel in spirit, as young as they are in their mind, their body continues to age. He or she who refuses to accept that fact is doomed to painful groin pulls and serious leg cramps.
So for those of you on the journey into middle age with me, let’s accept that our bodies may fall apart, and we can no longer convince them that we’re still 25. But we can still refuse to listen to anything other than Alt Rock from the Seattle grunge scene of the early 1990s. You can’t take Dave Grohl away from us, right?
Who’s with me?