Body Politics

Sometimes people seem amazed that my aging body still works as well as it does… well most of it anyway. I mean the slower parts still send me signals and everything, but often with different messages than I expected. ‘No’ is an increasingly common response, or ‘Okay, but it’s gonna hurt…’

After so many years of loyal obedience though, I’m not used to this kind of insolence from a body I thought I could depend on. I’ve toned down the extreme stuff a bit in my retirement: I no longer rock climb; I no longer paraglide (mind you the club closed down during Covid, so that might have played a role); I only go on my epic runs (20+ K) once every two or three weeks, depending on the weather; I’ve tried to keep my daily hikes to 5-10 K max; and I can no longer keep up with my son on his wilderness jaunts… So what’re my parts complaining about? It’s not like I’ve allowed them to rust, or anything,

Still, just as you can’t use a washing machine forever and expect it to clean like it did in the old days, I suppose that bits and pieces of a body begin to wear out; I understand that, but all the same I am disappointed that it seems to be happening already.

Sometimes it’s the strangest things that go awry -like the little finger on my left hand. It started off looking like a smaller version of the rest of the rest of its mates. To tell the truth, I’ve never been able to pick much up with it, so I suppose I didn’t notice it looking at me rather strangely in the early days. Then, it seemed to develop a kind of bend -a curl like you see the hoity-toity making with their little fingers when they pick up a cucumber sandwich, or a cup of tea.

Fine; I mean since I usually shake hands with my other side, I guess I never paid much attention to it. But eventually, it became quite noticeable, so I tried to force it into going straight with little except pain to show for my efforts. I can live with it as it curls up more and more I guess, but I am somewhat alarmed at its new name: Dupuytren’s contracture. Guillaume Dupuytren was apparently Napoleon’s surgeon, and gained fame for treating his employer’s hemorrhoids; I’m hoping the fact that he was also known for treating curled up fingers was unrelated. At any rate, depending upon what you think about French history, it’s either an honour, or a scourge to have his contracture. I haven’t yet made up my mind, although I’m thinking of buying a few porcelain teacups to see how it goes.

And then there’s the continually evolving issue of fatigue. I find myself having little naps in the afternoon. At first, I put these down to needing the rest after a morning of writing or feeling guilt about not writing, but I wonder if it’s actually something else -something more insidious and potentially malevolent: boredom -or Ennui, as I prefer to call it because the word seems to have arisen from the same country as Dupuytren, and I kind of like the matched set. Anyway fatigue is the curse of the elderly… Well this elder anyway. Running, hiking, and the more technologically driven biking or ellipticalling all help to drive away the fog, but they also result in naps… So does eating, for that matter, but I suppose a stomach needs a bit of off-time to digest stuff.

It’s interesting that I seldom feel tired when I travel, though. I usually drive because it allows me to pull over if I see something unusual -like a path or something which suddenly appears heading into a forest. That I notice it at all usually starts me wondering. I mean, why this trail -there must be hundreds of trails going into the woods. My mind sometimes works like that; wandering along a newly discovered trail is at least one way to still find adventure at my age, I suppose.

One time, for example I happened upon an opening to a forest that looked as if it was just a path frequented by deer, or whatever. Of course, ever curious as to why they would choose this route rather than another, I bushwhacked my way along it until I stumbled into a tiny clearing deep in the woods. At one edge of it was what appeared to be the stump of an ancient tree with something carved on its top. It was too high up to be sure, but I think I saw a tiny chair sitting up there. I immediately recognized that it was about the right size for a leprechaun. I mean do we even have leprechauns in Canada? Not that I would believe it unless one actually did peek out from behind a leaf, even though there was a group of mushrooms arranged around the stump as if it were a stage, but it did make me wonder if I’ve been living somewhere on the spectrum all these years. Things like that happen if you’re not careful about where you walk.

So I suppose I shouldn’t complain if my joints hurt every now and then after exploring the world, or if the knee muscles ache after a long stumbly walk. I think it’s a rather small price to pay; I mean I am well past my Best Before date for knees, and maybe for fingers as well and I’ve long since thrown away the user’s manual, I’m afraid. Anyway, it’s hard to complain when the number of problems that surface now and then could easily be counted on the fingers of one hand -my right hand, though… I’m still mad at my left.

All things considered, I figure I’ve endured the slings and arrows quite well and, believe it or not, I don’t think I’d want to reverse-engineer anything in my life were it suddenly offered to me. But I never get invited to those kinds of parties, so apart from playing charades with my elderly friends, I’m content to live with whatever I was assigned in the lottery.

Of course, there is always an elephant in the room isn’t there? It isn’t appearance -grey hair, and wrinkly skin can all be explained away, and in some people even add dignity to their presence; it is not the sheer volume of years acquired -they only measure exposure to the world, and do not necessitate a continuing contribution; and it isn’t diminishing agency either: a woman offered me a seat on the bus the other day…

No, I’m pretty sure my elephant is memory, although as Walt Whitman said: ‘I am large, I contain multitudes’, and it would be hard to miss an elephant in a crowd. But, uhmm… What was I suppose to be looking for…?

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