Thursday, May 19, 2011


Lately I’ve been trying to find a way to inhabit this new body of mine, not so much in circumventing its foibles or overcoming whatever limitations treachery and old age have in store but simply in understanding where I fit in and how the two of us might function as a whole. Or parts of a whole. At times I’m led to believe that my right knee will never get better but always remain a ghost of itself, fragile and uncertain like life itself, stable one moment, tottering the next, each step a challenge and an indulgence in questionable expectations. Far worse is the attrition sustained on the other parts of this whole, those formerly hale and now less so, my spine and joints sympathetic to my knee’s debilitations. Their overcompensation has left me crooked and bent like a crone, so much so that Lori said it broke her heart to see me this way. I didn’t know how to respond so I hobbled off in silence.

In the absence of absolutes we can only guess at the one true path. This isn’t some children’s fantasy where instead of wandering lost through unfamiliar terrain the itinerant wayfarer is given the benefit of a yellow brick road, nor is there an emerald palace waiting at the end should we be obstinate enough to overcome the obstacles placed before us. The similarities between the myths of the hero’s quest and the religious tales I was taught as a child are too numerous to be dismissed, and anyway I’ve left the latter behind in favor of the former. Almost daily I’m reminded of my former Baptist pastor’s railings against the world, a vile and hated place to him though in most ways it was merely a biblical concept he could never fully escape from. Substitute body for world and we’re on the same page minus the evil he would unfailingly inject. 

If nothing else the mythos cycles dramatize my codgernautical journey into the nascent stages of geezerhood, embellishing them into something more than the sorry disintegration that comes with a life well lived. What strikes me is my reaction to this. Rather than weep in my beer or fall prey to depression I’ve launched an offensive against clutter within the boundaries of our property both interior and exterior. It’s almost as if I’m trying to start all over, to wipe the proverbial slate clean and return to that unimaginable beginning when the future held nothing but promise and youth assured us of eternal health and optimism. 

It was never like that of course, not even in our dreams. Nor could it be given my intrinsic negativity and moody introspective nature. I expected the worst, and when it didn’t fall suspected some minor delay instead of accepting the idea that life is more than the sum of its parts. It wasn’t until later in life after our children had grown and left the nest that it came to me how wrong I’d been. If anything I was luckier than I had any right to presume, whether through being washed in the blood of the Lamb or merely overlooked by forces beyond our reckoning. Maybe it was like being in school when the best one could hope for was anonymity, and invisibility from teachers and bullies better than a smile from the girl who always sat near the teacher’s desk and wore short skirts that left you dazed and breathless. Amy was her name and her hair was golden like the morning sun.

After a while the pain and the years of being lucky wear you down. So far we’ve gambled and won but winning lasts only so long before the dice turn against us. For no reason we sense the wall at our back and suspect without good reason that we’ve been exiled even if to this world that doesn’t seem so bad once we manage to get past our blindness. Regret’s a wasted emotion and self-pity a turning away from what matters, which more and more seems austerity and simplicity. 

Besides translating into a wholesale divestiture of junk, books I’ll never read or have read once and found wanting, tarnished trinkets and treasures and the sheer accumulation of nameless stuff, I’ve taken to poring over each room in the house like an interior designer let loose with a sledgehammer and dumpster rather than unlimited expense account. When did we decide that we needed four small end tables, two huge reclining chairs, a smaller Victorian chair and a long leatherette couch in our tiny living room? Where did all those mismatched tables, file cabinets and desks come from in my office? It was never about design but always about utility and the lowest cost, and it worked for a while but like my knee it works no longer.

I need freedom to move without tripping over something. Organizing the office has been safe in that I’m only dealing with my things, and if I’m beginning to feel a little freer with elbow room I’m also realizing the enormous task ahead. It’s not that I want to revert to our first apartment when our possessions amounted to a smattering of silverware and plates and pairs of sleeping bags and pillows and not even a chair to sit on, but rather a reclamation from excess. 

I was mowing the yard several days ago when the mood came upon me to export this concept into the broader spectrum of our patch of prairie. For years the farmer who maintained our field had incrementally encroached into our lawn until I could no longer squeeze the mower between the redbuds and the corn, milo or soybeans. Though I was weary beyond words and pain seared my shoulder and hip I stared at the narrow no-man’s strip and decided there was nothing else to do but take it back. The pre-plowing grass was deep and clogged the mower chute but I forced a path to the road and turned back and enlarged the opening a few feet and liked the appearance so much that I did it twice more. The sense of satisfaction far outweighed the meager expanse I’d cleared. 

Back inside the house I began measuring the various furnishings in my office with an eye toward consolidation and efficiency. It won’t bring my knee back but at this point I’ll settle for a substitute.


Deb Southerland said...

Every word is resonating. The knee, the clutter, the clearing out, the pure doggone persistence that makes us go forward even with our less than reliable appendages reminding us of our vulnerability. I'm lovin this. Keep us posted.

Suzanne said...

There's absolutely something to this because every person I know "of a certain age" goes through this decluttering. Everyone, except my mother-in-law.

Carol said...

I appreciated this update on your knee, Tom. We're thinking of you and wishing you well in your clean-up efforts.
I recently helped my dad, age 90, move. We pared down a good bit. He is still active, and is focusing on enjoying three cooked meals each day and socializing much more than what he has given away, auctioned or tossed.
He's on the third floor of his facility, and can see for miles to the SW from his balcony. It's a beautiful view. Spring is here. He is settled. All is well for now.

shoreacres said...

This really resonates. I can't help but laugh - every time the weather gurus start muttering "evacuation" I'm overwhelmed by the urge to wash woodwork. Who knows what that's about? Probably a variant of "wear clean underwear so you won't be embarassed if you're in an accident and have to go to the hospital". It was part of our era.

But the clutter. Yes. There comes a time. I'm in the midst of it myself - mental as well as physical. I can't say which is harder. What I do know is this: we're a part of nature ourselves, and a good bit of our time is spent in trying to deny that one little fact.

I got taken down by the flu this weekend. You've got your knee. A friend just had a stroke (though home and recovering). Annie Dillard's got a word for us all:

Is this what it’s like, I thought then, and think now: a little blood here, a chomp there, and still we live, trampling the grass? Must everything whole be nibbled?

Here was a new light on the intricate texture of things in the world, the actual plot of the present moment in time after the fall: the way we the living are nibbled and nibbling – not held aloft on a cloud in the air but bumbling, pitted and scarred and broken through a frayed and beautiful land.

Yep. That's pretty much it.

Tom Parker said...

Yep, that's pretty much it. Hope your flu gets better soon, Linda. Yesterday I was helping Lori clean out her parents' shed and the barrel I was carrying didn't fit through the door quite as well as I expected it to. Slammed it hard right on my knee, felt it go through me like a bolt of lightning. Now: set back. Depressing. "After the fall" Indeed.