The Third Act Organ Recital

Most Mondays, after my yoga class, I drop in for tea and conversation with my older sister and her husband. We haven’t lived close enough for regular visits since she graduated from high school in 1965. A year ago this month, they moved from Virginia to Washington and live twenty minutes from me. I envy those who have been close to their siblings their entire lives—perhaps in spite of physical distance—but there is no point in dwelling in that particular house, I can only live in this one. Time, now, is growing short. Onward.

I’m tempted to say we have little in common, which would not be untrue (though I wonder, if we all recognized we have humanity in common with every other person and went from there, could this be a better world?). Here’s what we undeniably do share, other than DNA: A childhood (the first act of life) and the fact of elderhood (the third act). It’s interesting that in this last act, recalling the first act and exploring our differing recall and experience is ongoing fascination. It’s like a jigsaw puzzle to piece it all together into something resembling a whole. (Someday, I suppose, it will be all we can remember.)

Last week, over tea, we had our bit of the requisite “organ recital.” I was telling her about the excruciating back pain I’d had the week before, what with hiking—and the seven hours in the car, which the three hour hike bisected—and rebuilding my meadow garden, with heavy lifting (e.g. bags of sand, bark, and soil), along with digging out hardened mole hills and laying down cardboard and landscape cloth between the raised beds. I worked through the pain, determined to finish the job before the rain returned for the next many days. In other words, I did not listen to my body and what it should not do that particular day. For twenty-four hours, I could barely walk, get up from the chair, or turn over in bed.

The interesting thing was my thoughts—as I am drawing my foot back to kick down the gate into my seventy-third year next month—went like this: “Well, this it it. I’m going to have chronic back pain from here out. Hard work is done, hiking is done, this is my forever now.” The next day, when it was much better after rest and an ibuprofen/acetaminophen regimen, I wondered had I known I would get quickly back to normal, might I have been more tolerant of the pain and inconvenience the previous day? Along the same lines, the tendinitis in my hand, which began more than a year ago, took much longer to get better. I was making my peace with it being something I would have to live with. I won’t say it’s 100% pain free, but I’m back to using two trekking poles and everything else I need hands for.

As we talked, I recalled having sciatica in 1980. It never occurred to me at 28 that it was my forever. It was just a “shit happens” thing. Now, everything feels like a potential crisis. That is what I least like about this time of life.

What I am most loving about the third act—so unlike the second act when we are often just trying to get through the days and sometimes looking forward to the far off future—is learning to enjoy this moment, this day, this sunrise, this rainstorm, this hike, this flower, this conversation. As I write this, I’m watching a dark-eyed junco on the deck rail. Is it questioning the empty feeder, or just enjoying a moment in a spot of sun on a dark day?

What I am wondering: what if I approach the set backs with the same kind of observation and interest? Oh, my back hurts today. How can I change my plan for the day to accommodate what is happening in this moment? Maybe I need not clean out the flower bed or power wash the patio, and instead just sit in the sun or take a nap—or both.

I am sensitive to the fact that many do have chronic pain and illness. My father did, both polymyositis and heart disease, along with the complicating effects of the treatments. It was brutal. If you are living with a chronic condition, I hope you have found what brings you joy in whatever your body is able to do.

How are you caring for your beautiful self on the good days and on the challenging ones? Let me know in the comment section. I would love to hear from you. [A note about commenting on a post: Click the subscribe drop down arrow at the top of the comment section and provide your information (it is private) to receive an email when someone replies to your comment. I, at least, will always reply!]