I did it again. When my back went out last October, I started using a cane. The first time I went to the Aquatic Fitness Center to do the exercises from my physical therapist, I was so anxious and focused on getting there that I lost the cane. I had put it on the trunk of the car to load my gear into the back seat. I then drove off without taking the cane. I did the same thing this time because I was in a fog. In between these two, I left the cane on the trunk while I put Sammie in the car. (I’ve yet to figure out, even after much backtracking, where the canes are falling off and who is collecting them.) There was also the time I put the cane in my shopping cart at the supermarket, and left it there when I picked up the grocery bags to put them in the car. This makes four canes I’ve lost in six months..
So, I’ve started to put the cane inside the car before I do anything else, and I don’t take it into the supermarket. It remains to be seen how long memory will keep reminding me to do this. Short-term memory obviously went silent the four other times. Not to speak of the time I left Sammie’s pooper scooper by the recycling cans, Or the time I showed up for lunch at my niece Katie’s on a Saturday when her mother, my sister Sara, had invited me for Sunday.
When these lapses started to repeat, I became quite concerned about my aging mind. As is my wont, I started reading and scribbling about aging. Continuing the way I handled grief after Laura’s death, I use reading and scribbling to process stressful events. I’ve also started to meditate more regularly than I had been doing last year. Sitting silently helps.
In one article about aging, Douglas Penick shares how I presume that my mind will stay sharp while my body falls apart. “There is not much discussion of how it feels for the old to find the same mind continuing, its clarity and curiosity,” while the body changes. Guess what, the mind changes too!
As I mentioned before, I also re-read Jean Améry’s On Aging. I came across it while looking for my copy of his book At the Mind’s Limits, which I’d been discussing with my sister at that aforementioned lunch when she brought up Desmond Tutu. Writing about aging, Améry tells us:
It requires an extensive experience of physical downfall, dwindling bodily powers, weakened memory, decay, and difficulty in all forms, for death to change from an objectively impersonal subject into something authentic.
And that’s what I feared after these senior moments: dying. Améry distinguishes the fear caused by attacks such as dysentery or pneumonia from the “fear like that slow dying, assigned to me from within as a familiar enemy with whom I have to deal.” It’s more like having lost all trust in the world because of no “expectation of help. Dying was terror…. Such fright has something precipitous, incomprehensible, something thoroughly alien about it.” His “persistent” fear has become so much a part of him that he doesn’t say that “I have any fear. Instead I say that I am fear.”
Reading about his fears helped me stop feeding my own. My current thread of reading and scribbling about silence also involves questions of aging and dying. Like dying, silence opens. And we fear the uncertainty of opening in silence or dying
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