“Are you still working?” the receptionist at the physical therapy office asked me as I was trying to make early morning appointments.
“Yes,” I replied.
“God bless,” she responded.
I thought, “What, do I look 100?” Recovering from hip surgery I was coming to the end of rehabilitation and an interesting journey. The hip, bothering me for years, deteriorated to the point where I had to do something, and total hip replacement was the recommended course.
A week before the operation, at the hip/knee replacement class, I looked around at all the old guys and thought maybe I’m on the young side to trade in a joint, but when the nurse in charge asked about insurance I was the only one on Medicare so I wasn’t the youngest but the oldest by at least four years.
There’s a sameness and continuity on the inside and as long as I’m not looking at my reflection I can happily delude myself into thinking I’m not that old. But then I’ll go into a store and the clerk deducts the senior citizen discount without me asking. Or one of my students at St. Joseph’s College, during a discussion, says, “He was really old,” stops looks at me and continues, “You know about 80,” figuring that might be a safe number. So old clues are ubiquitous, but I’m not picking up on them. No, the new 69, for me, is not anything but 69.
Before my hip pain I never realized how many people of my ilk use shopping carts as walkers. Days before surgery, for exercise, I took to walking around Costco pushing my cart and was more aware of and sensitive to the many older people who walk haltingly, shuffle and limp. In fact I feel more connected to others, late in life’s journey, through shared physical suffering and weakness than I ever did in my younger days when I was still consumed by comparing and competing with the accomplishments of my peers.
This was highlighted, for me, during my 50-year high school reunion where some were still in the comparison mode, “Did you read my bio?” But most seemed realistic, humble and open about current functioning and past accomplishments. A refreshing conversation with one of my classmates, in particular, sticks out. When I asked Bob, who had a successful career in finance, how he was doing, he said, “I’m fat, I can’t hear, and I have two stents.” One of our classmates walked up and said something about his playing on the school basketball team. Bob stopped him mid-sentence and replied, “I made the team. I wasn’t a star.”
At Mass the day before surgery, the priest stopped to say hello. I had been in the seminary with him 40-plus years ago, and after I mentioned that I was going to get my hip replaced the next day, he asked if I’d like to get the anointing of the sick blessing during Mass. That seemed like a no-brainer to me, so after the sermon he told the congregants that I was visiting from a nearby parish and was going to have surgery the next day, and he was going to administer the anointing of the sick. He then asked if anyone else would like the blessing for his or her health concerns. Out of the 16 people, all who looked to me to be healthy but also senior members of AARP, eight raised their hands. You can, I guess, rarely tell by looking who is dealing with what, but most everybody after a certain age has something.
Now, with the new hip and feeling like 60 again, I can resume my hobbies and teaching relatively pain free. But I’m ever cognizant that I’m nearing the end, which makes it all both sweeter and sadder. So, upon reflection, I guess I’ll gracefully accept the receptionist’s, “God bless.”
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