Having a sympathetic young police officer NOT give me a speeding ticket is one of the perks of being an elder, but being an elder also means learning how to let go. We have to let go of bits of ourselves, what we used to do, who we used to be. With any progressive neurological disorder, letting go starts a lot sooner. What happens when we get to the point where there are things we can't do anymore?
Okay. Stop right here. I know what you're thinking. I've heard it before, many times. Please don't send me the quotes and memes saying, "Stay positive! Don't ever say you can't do something!" I don't want to see the videos of 99-year-olds riding skateboards, climbing mountains, or running marathons or the videos of 99-year-olds with Parkinson's riding skateboards, climbing mountains, and running marathons. I get the point. If they can do it, so can I.
The message in these memes and videos? Running marathons = awesome, walking with a walker = not cool. Climbing mountains = awesome, needing help to climb stairs = not cool. Riding on a skateboard = awesome, riding a mobility scooter* = not cool. If we must have Parkinson's or if we must get old, be like the awesome ones. I know it's all meant to be inspiring, but too often it's discouraging. Nope. I obviously can't be awesome because, try as I might, I'm not going to climb mountains or run marathons or ride skateboards.
Stop again. Breathe out. All those memes and videos? Hit the delete button.
Now, a reality check. Giving up the awesomeness of climbing mountains, running marathons and skateboarding isn't difficult for me. I don't do those anyway and, if I'm truly honest, I don't want to. It's when I have to give up things I love to do, that's my true test.
Because of fatigue issues, I've had to give up a few things - working full time or even part time, volunteering regularly, doing more than one major activity per day and not more than three per week. I've been very lucky. What I've had to give up, I've been able to replace with other activities like naps...and, well, other things... like naps.. and... Okay, instead of felting intricate pictures and figures, I'm knitting little animals for my grandchildren. I can join my husband on his daily walks if I adapt and use my cool scooter*. I can, occasionally, be in a clinical study and once in awhile, I even get paid for it.
We all respond differently when we are faced with chronic health challenges and the challenge of growing older. Some will choose to not go gentle into that good night, but will, as Dylan Thomas' poem advises, rage, rage against the dying of the light. Some will pretend their challenges don't exist and try to pass as a younger person in perfect health. Some will be convinced their challenges will go away if they are just positive enough. Some will climb mountains and ride skateboards till the day they die.
I don't want to spend the rest of my life raging or feeling guilty because I'm not climbing mountains.
My mentor is Dr. Paul Zeiger, engineer, scientist, university professor, yoga teacher, poet, and PWP (person with Parkinson's). He says we are given many opportunities to reconfigure our lives according to the resources we have available to us. He knows. He and his wife, Carolyn, have had to do this time after time. Paul says that growing old is the most difficult work a person will ever do. For some of us, a marathon is also known as getting through each day.
There is a verse which is said by the first and second graders at the Waldorf school at the end of each day. It allows the children to put their academic work aside, let it rest.
We tend to identify ourselves by what we do and when we lose the ability to do something, it can be like losing a part of ourselves. We have to reconfigure ourselves and find out what this new.... or older body can still do. If we get stuck trying to hold on to who we were once upon a time, we're not leaving room to discover who we are now. The time for doing some things may have ended, but we can let them rest and trust in what we have learned from our doing.
We have to grieve and maybe even rage a little. But what if we take Paul's advice? What if we could let go of those lost parts of ourselves and let them go gentle into the good night? If Paul and Carolyn's lives are an example, we know if we can let go and let those things rest, our lives are not empty, but will include wisdom, strength, love, and the capacity to bless those around us.
Skateboarding is optional.
*My mobility scooter IS cool. Some 12 year old boys told me so. It is a TravelScoot, the best little scooter ever. Thank you, Roger, again and again, for blessing me with this gift and the bigger gift of a connection with our family in Luxembourg.