The sands of time play before my eyes as I type. I see an hourglass, half-full, half-empty, depending on how you look at it. Today is my dog's birthday, and mine too. She's nine years old; I'm 48. Sometimes, getting older can be a good thing- like when you enter a new age group for PPP. But, the grey sprinkling Sprocket's muzzle and the bag of blue ice resting on my shoulder make me only too aware that we are past the out-and-back turnaround and headed toward the finish line.
A friend posted this familiar quote on his Facebook wall the other day: "Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, chocolate in one hand, martini in the other, body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming 'WOO HOO what a ride!'"
"I'm pretty sure I don't I have to worry about getting to the end in a thoroughly preserved body," I posted back.
My right shoulder started giving me a whole lot of trouble about seven months ago. Finally, I went to see an orthopod. The MRI said I've got osteoarthritis. Arthritis?? That's for old people.
"I can give you a cortisone injection to reduce the inflammation, but you have to start being sensible about what you do," said the doctor.
"OK, shoot me up," I replied.
He left the room and returned with an ominous-looking syringe.
"Hey, I was wondering if I can still go on my four-day, hut-to-hut mountain bike trip this week?" I asked.
The doctor rolled his eyes in resignation as he plunged the enormous needle into my shoulder.
The mountain bike trip (aided by a little Tylenol with codeine) was awesome, by the way. Thereafter, I took it easy (honestly) and spent enough mornings rehabbing at Rebound to get my mail delivered there. Then, one day around Christmas, I decided to skate ski to Elk Lake and back, which is a completely sensible thing to do. But my shoulder wasn't happy and the pain cycle started all over again.
I went to see the orthopod again and he didn't mince his words this time.
"You need to act your age," he said.
I take a break from writing my column. Sprocket and I are going to celebrate our birthdays by skiing around Wanoga Butte together. I stride, pole in one hand, while she bounds joyously off-piste. We are kindred spirits - this is what we live for. The snow is pure white, the sky is bright blue, and, apparently, there are all sorts of fascinating odors buried in the snowbanks. After a good, hard hour-fifteen, we hop into the van and return home. In earlier days, that was hardly a warm-up for my ever-ready companion, but now she seems content to curl up in front of the fireplace while I sit down at my computer again, blue ice propped on my shoulder.
The root of all suffering is attachment, Buddha says. I'm a lousy Buddhist.
I am very much attached to my shoulders, or vice-versa. I'm quite at peace with the fact that I will never land a 1260 McTwist in this lifetime, but I am not ready to hand in my paddle just yet. I still want to sea kayak the Queen Charlottes and race in an outrigger canoe from Molokai to Oahu.
So, what is the right balance between acceptance and determination? What is the sense in leading a sensible life? Should I age gracefully or should I go kicking and screaming?
I don't know the answers.
I look over at Sprocket. Talk about attachment. We share everything together - runs, ski outings, backpack trips, mountain bike rides, even paddles on the river. She knows the difference between work shoes (bad=left behind) and running shoes (good=gets to go), between my road bike (bad) and my mountain bike (good) and between the surf ski (bad) and the sea kayak (good). In dog years, she's older than me now. I'm not sure which is harder: to watch her age or to acknowledge my own time passing. She'll set the example and I realize that I'll have to follow her lead. In the meantime, though, we're going to continue to believe that every tree bears the potential of a squirrel and we're going to pounce into snowbanks whenever we can. And, sometimes, we'll just follow the sunny spot from the skylight around the living room.
Oh, by the way, I just found out that they're adding a new wave to PPP this year: Elite Masters 40+. See all the rest of you old fogies there. I'll be the one with the carbon fiber cane.