Change is good, right? It shakes things up, gets the creative juices flowing, and stimulates new thinking. We get into routines, habits, and ruts, and limit ourselves without even realizing it. Last week, in an outlandishly daring move, I bought a different brand of dark chocolate. I love my usual brand, but why not try something new? My new chocolate made me fall in love with dark chocolate all over again. I didn’t think chocolate could get any better, but it did. My choice to make a change took me to a good place. I support change, but the changes we encounter involuntarily as we age can often take us to challenging and difficult places. Our best line of defense is humor.
If nothing else, the aging process is chock full of surprises. Young people really can’t comprehend the experience of waking up in the morning to discover that your knee won’t bend even though it bent just fine when you went to bed last night. Is there a curse on your mattress that made it suck all the flexibility out of that knee overnight, or what? Maybe it’s a sleep-number mattress setting you didn’t notice: #202 Knee Gives Out. Why did that knee get so lucky and not the other one? Or waking up to discover that you can’t see out of one eye. You sit up in bed and think “that’s interesting.” You feel to make sure the eye is still there, to make sure that the devil mattress didn’t suck out the whole eye. Because you never know. Old age is fraught with magical realism.
One day we are innocently chugging along, oblivious to the changes occurring inside our bodies as our parts wear out, and the next day we pass out on the treadmill during a stress test ordered by the cardiologist with the result that we are informed that we need a pacemaker. So then we ask ourselves, when did my body forget how to regulate my heart beat? Other questions arise. When did I lose the ability to fall sleep? Why do I hear crickets in my ear? How could I possibly have left my elbow at a restaurant? Is my new obsession with Marx Brothers films a side effect of my blood pressure meds? Did my dishwasher suddenly start leaking after I had that periodontal deep cleaning, or is that my imagination? Do I still have an imagination? I might have left my imagination at the restaurant with my elbow.
The people I know who have lived the longest say that the hardest thing about getting old is that their peers die off. If you live long enough, you wind up being the last one standing, and all the people with whom you go back and back and back are gone. That’s why it’s important to keep making new friends who are younger people. Those of us with children and grandchildren are fortunate to have built-in access to people with whom we can populate our lives who are more likely to outlive us. The greatest challenge is remembering the names of these new young friends. I hear that a phone app is in development that will allow you to point your phone at a person and it will establish face recognition and tell you the person’s name. This app would also be very helpful in assisting old people with figuring out if they actually know someone or not to begin with. Maybe they could invent an app that would let you know if you would like to know a person or not. You could then point your phone at someone and it would say helpful things like “yup, she makes the best strawberry jam and gives it to people at Christmas, you want to know her” or “nope, you don’t know this guy and you don’t want to know him, he collects Civil War cannons.”
They say that with old age comes wisdom, and that as you age, people show you more respect and listen to you more. But I imagine that you lose credibility when you can’t remember the person’s name to give them advice, especially if the person is your nephew whom you’ve known since his birth. I think that change keeps us on our toes so that we improve cognitive function and have a better chance of remembering names. So by switching to a new brand of chocolate, I keep myself on my toes and increase my capacity to remember where I parked my car, who this man is who sleeps in my bed with me, or why I put an avocado in the mailbox.
As we age, the world becomes a more mysterious and astonishing place. Increasingly, events defy explanation and objects escape understanding. I am amazed by those old folks who have steered clear of using computers (I know a few who don’t have a computer), fearful that if they turn on a computer it will steal their soul and blow up their house. At the same time, I can’t imagine what new-fangled next level of technology will evolve and baffle me if I live to be very, very old. It’s true that I don’t have a smart phone, which is perhaps the equivalent of my elderly friends who don’t own computers. Some of us still pay monthly bills by mail. I even have a friend who drives to the electrical company office to hand in monthly payment to save on the cost of a stamp. I read an article last week about the fact that in the near future checks will become obsolete and everything will be paid electronically. Won’t that leave people more vulnerable to identity theft? I’m not so worried for myself, since my identity is pretty worn out so I doubt anyone would want it, but what about young people with fresh identities? I would be tempted to steal an identity with good knees.
The elders I admire the most are the ones who keep laughing. Having the people we love, and have shared our lives with, die off is not funny. So we take some time for grief and then, as my father says, “enough of that.” Otherwise, we might as well follow them to the other side right now. But we are still here to enjoy life’s more magical and brilliant moments, and to have a laugh at the absurdity and the humor in all of it. Trying to stay positive. That’s my mantra. I want a phone app that tells me a person’s name and then whether or not they have a good sense of humor. I want a funny-seeking phone app. I could also use an app that tells me if there’s organic dark chocolate in the vicinity and, if so, where it’s at.
[One of the old folks in my life who keeps me laughing the most is my husband Ron and today is his birthday. Happy birthday, my love. So happy to still have you with me on this side of the great divide.]
This is the new chocolate I tried and fell in love with this week.