Middle age: Learning the lessons of gratitude and humility

By Katy Nesbitt April 10, 2013 09:37 am
As a kid I never listened to sermons much and thank goodness I’m an Episcopalian, because our typical sermon length is only 12.5 minutes long. However, as an adult I do like a good sermon, particularly one that relates to real life.

Fr. Rol Hoverstock of St. John’s, Boulder, Colo., gave good sermons. The theme of one that is indelibly imprinted in my brain had the refrain, “Old age is not for sissies.” 

I think he stole this line from someone else, but every good preacher and stand-up comedian understands the importance of repetition. Fr. Rol repeated the line, “Old age is not for sissies” throughout the sermon to emphasize his point.

I was in my 30s when I heard him preach this adage and so it didn’t speak to me directly, nor should it now, but I say, when a woman can’t mow her lawn without ending up in traction, the fear of what’s to come hovers. That’s right, I was mowing my lawn and it needs it again nine days later, but I fear the reprisal of mowing it.

Old age crept in while I was young. At 30 I wanted to be 16 again, so I decided I should get in shape. In so doing I hurt my back and right knee, and occasionally those injuries flare up.

When I crawled into the doctor’s office Monday morning, she asked me how I first hurt it. The lower back region, also known as the “L-5,” has been a sore spot for almost 15 years ... but I think in an effort to strengthen my lower back I hurt it.

So my back gets sore easily and I take Advil and it gets better. In my mid-30s, I slung brush for a tree company and one day after moving heavy wood I quit. Now moving heavy wood is something I do on my time, in my time, with no sense of urgency, and if I feel like it.

Though I am not ready for old age, I have embraced yoga in my middle age. Rushing to get out the door last week for class, I coughed while brushing my teeth. My lawn mowing injury instantly turned into a great trunk full of spasm. I crammed into my car, drove to the store for Advil, and upon returning, I rolled onto the sofa with the laptop to work until my next outing. Over the next three days it got progressively worse.

For the entire weekend I could barely get up and when I did, it was excruciating to get back down. In my immobility I thought of all the people I know who suffer from chronic pain and they received my deepest sympathy.

Many years ago I remember listening to Garrison Keillor describe his five weeks of recovery from heart surgery on an episode of “Prairie Home Companion.” Unused to doing nothing, he talked about sitting in a rocking chair for days on end unable to write or travel or produce his show. He talked about the lesson learned from immobility, of being still, of simply being and not doing.

We call ourselves human beings, but define ourselves by our doings ... not the time spent just being, looking at the mountains, wading in the stream or contemplating on our navels, as my father says. But what good am I lying on my back, unable to cook or wash dishes or even get up and get the pepper?

Perhaps of the lessons learned from sitting in a rocking chair or in the fetal position are lessons of gratitude and humility.

Judge Russell West quoted John Donne in court last week from the poem, “No Man is an Island.” After this lost weekend, I am grateful to be part of a continent of loving friends who catered to me and my body, my island home, as I lay there, feeling like a sissy.