December 21st, 2008

ozarque figure

Eldering; wimpitude...

This year has been a graduation into genuine elder status for me, and I have suddenly realized why we used to refer to graduation ceremonies as "Commencement." This year has unquestionably been the real commencement, for me, of being truly elderly. And I am learning -- not gracefully, and not easily -- how guilty I am of the very dangerous sin of pride.

I have always been someone who, when faced with an ordinary task, could find a way to get it done. I am no more likely to have a solution for tasks associated with disasters than anyone else is, but when dealing with The Quotidian -- the ordinary everyday tasks of the house and yard and garden and workplace -- I have always been someone who could and would find a way, somehow. All my life, the surest way to make certain that I would do something has been to say to me, "Well, hey -- you can't do that." I was willing, and I was able; and now, however willing I may be, Providence is forcing me to learn, at long last, the lesson of not being able.

For example... There are two narrow strips of mildew on the ceiling over my shower, and I can't -- absolutely cannot -- do anything about that. I can't reach them, not in any way that will let me get at them for long enough and with enough force to remove them. Which means that when my guests are here on Christmas Day they are going to see those two strips of mildew. Which means that when my brother and my sister-in-law -- whose house is always spotless -- are here, they are also going to see those two strips of mildew. To which statement the only sensible rejoinder is, "So what?" But I mind. My word on it, I really do mind. My image of myself is that I am someone who will be able to find a way to get rid of those two strips of mildew, and dealing with that image morphed into someone who doesn't meet that standard causes me pain. And that, Gentle Reader, is the sin of pride.

For example... I am almost certainly going to lose my beloved English cabbage rose bush tonight, because I can't -- absolutely cannot -- go prune and mulch it, and it's going to go down to 5 degrees here tonight. It's not just the work on the rosebush .... I probably would be able to handle that. It's much worse. Our big garden has become such a jungle that there's no way I can get anywhere near that rosebush. It's been a lot of years since I've been strong enough to use any of the various power gadgets we have for clearing up that garden, but until this year I've just gotten out there with my pruning shears and my oldfashioned manual weed whip, carved a path through the jungle, and taken proper care of that rosebush. This year, all of a sudden, I can't.

You cannot imagine how hard it is for me to get my head around this concept of "I can't" that keeps popping up day after day, right in my face. I hear myself say it, I see myself write it, and my reaction is an immediate and automatic, "Oh, come on!! Whadaayou mean, you can't?? That's garbage! That's just laziness, just a phony way of getting out of doing something you don't much want to do! Of course you can! You just pull yourself together and quit whining and go do it!"

But I know, I know very well, that the task I am really facing is finding a way to accept the fact that "I can't" is now a true statement about a lot of tasks, and is going to be true for a lot more as time goes by. Feh. It's just pride. It would be a lot easier to give up the sin of stealing, or the sin of lying, or the sin of coveting my neighbor's stuff, or any one of the others. Giving up the sin of pride? Maybe I can't.

There I'll be, still proud, falling off the stepladder in the stupid shower and breaking my hip, for the sake of pride. There I'll be, still proud, tangled up in one of the briar thickets in our garden for hours, getting a whopping case of hypothermia, for the sake of pride. That stupid -- and proud of it. Mercy.