Friday, March 29, 2013

Once Upon a Me

There is nothing more futile, frustrating, counterproductive, or ungrateful than railing against aging, especially since growing old is a privilege denied many if not most. But I can't help it.

We come into life and spend our first forty years or more assuming that it is a totally no-strings-attached gift. And then, slowly, the taxes start to accrue, with payment in the form of a gradual repossession of those things we assumed were ours unconditionally and forever. Every human being granted the invaluable but never-thought-of birth-gift of good health eventually must be subjected to the process. Yet even when we grudgingly acknowledge that the gift is neither permanent nor not subject to change, we do so more as a case of lip service than true awareness and understanding of the price.

As a rule, these unseen “taxes” are taken so gradually we aren't even aware of the withdrawals from our account. Of course in my case, my bout with tongue cancer took a large bite out of my reserves, unquestionably aging me by several years. Living near a large university campus doesn't help my ability to try to overlook it. As I get off the el near the DePaul campus, I watch the students bound down the stairs two and three at a time in an effortless “da-dum-da-dum-da-dum” cadence. There is a rhythm and fluidity to it I never noticed while I had it, but of which I am excruciatingly aware now that I do not. They run easily across the street to catch a bus. I jolt and lurch. There is no fluidity to it. (Imagine Frankenstein's monster trying to run and you pretty much have the picture.).

And the most maddening thing, to me, is that all my life...all my life...I could do these things without a single thought: chew, swallow a bit of cookie without having to wash it down with some liquid other than saliva, whistle, belch, look up at a plane passing directly overhead. I know I keep repeating and repeating what I cannot do, but I do so largely because I simply cannot believe that these simple things have been taken from me. (Perhaps that's my message to those who withdrawals from their “account” have not yet become noticeable: when you move with grace and ease; when you run, when you bound up and down steps, be aware of how blessed you truly are.)

Glancing over the above paragraphs, I realize how ungracious my complaints are, how ungrateful I appear to be, not for having things taken away from me, but for ever having had them at all, when so very many people never had them. I suppose I am in the position of a very rich man who has lost the bulk of his fortune, giving no consideration, no empathy, no true understanding for all those who have never had the things I bewail having been taken away from me. I complain because I cannot raise my head high enough to look up at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, totally ignoring the fact that tens of millions of people have never been to the Sistine Chapel, and tens of millions of others are unable to see anything at all. I cannot bound down a flight of stairs or run across the street to catch a bus, but I have two functioning legs and I can walk, where so many cannot.

I was born healthy and I remain, despite my largely unwarranted litany of self pity, far healthier than so very many people who deserve my beyond-measure admiration for handling their adversities with far more serenity and grace than I can possibly display.

And so I find it interesting, and not a little cathartic, that what set out to be a cautionary blog directed at others ends up being, for me, a closer and more appreciative assessment of myself.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please take a moment to visit his website ( and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (


Vastine Bondurant said...

Mixed feelings here.

Of course, part of me wants to sweetly admonish that you ARE live, etc., etc. Be grateful for that, etc.

But the part of me---the part who knows exactly what you're feeling---can only smile and understand.

And I'd like to tell you that you ARE self-pitying, but I can't.

I CAN appreciate that you are a writer, though, and that you have a voice to share how you feel, which is your way of addressing these feelings.

My only thing is the wish to shout to these young people...PLEASE spend the funds in that bank account carefully. You will not be young forever.


Nikolaos said...

I often feel grumpy about my aging and all the horrid things it's done and is doing to my health. I know I was young once. But it seems so long ago!

Hell, I never thought I'd get old. And here I am. And it is (so far) better than the alternative.