The Retired Man I Live With

He retired 3 years ago.  I knew it would be an adjustment for both of us.

We worked together for the first year or so of his business.  I learned he has ADD.  He learned I don’t like to be ordered around.  We are both oldest children and both like to be in charge.  It did not go well.

The retired man I live with is always “doing.” His retirement hobby is puttering.  He loads and unloads the dishwasher, vacuums up the clumps of dog hair Sydney drops this time of year, and often fixes dinner.  Our yard is beautiful.  He painted the upstairs bathroom and put in new stick-on tile flooring.  He does his own laundry.

He takes care of me on days when my rheumatoid arthritis acts up or zaps my energy.  He has patience I never expected.  I feel loved.

His busy energy permeates my house and makes me crazy.

I am an introvert who requires solitude and quiet.  I never had long-term sadness about the “empty nest.”  They didn’t go far and I enjoyed the empty house while Mike worked.

I miss my empty house.  I miss my solitude and quiet.

I am spoiled rotten by the retired man I live with and I complain that he is always around.

Okay.  I know.  The only thing I have control over is myself.  And I’m better than I used to be at having the wisdom to know what I can change and what I cannot.

I’ve known the retired man I live with for 40 (!!) years.  He is not going to change.

I’ve never liked those little iPod ear-bud things.  But I think I’ll try being like a teenager and play some mellow music I like and tune out the active energy seeping up the stairs to my office.  I might even stuff a towel in the space between the door bottom and the floor, like you’re supposed to do if there’s a fire.

Got any other suggestions?


Bite Me

I bit my fingernails for many years.  We moved every couple of years (4 elementary schools, 1 junior high, 2 high schools).  I was an introvert and a driven over-achiever.  I finally quit in my early 20’s because I wanted a picture of our new wedding rings the day we got married.  Of course, by then I was smoking cigarettes, so that helped.

I’ve never been comfortable with long fingernails.  They don’t feel natural.  And I don’t really see the point of fingernail polish.  It just gets chipped on me.

Several years ago, I worked with a pottery teacher.  I messed up a pot once with my fingernails.  After that I cut them really short.  I still do.  And I don’t polish them, except for my daughters’ weddings.

My toenails are another story.  Because of the arthritis in my hands, I used to cut my toenails so badly that twice I had ingrown toenails.  The podiatrist told me I should get pedicures.  I asked if insurance would pay for it.  It doesn’t.  It should–it’s cheaper than what the podiatrist had to do.  So now I have beautiful toenails with polish (red for the holidays).  Doctor’s orders.

The human body has a few flaws, I think.  Knees are a weak point, easily worn out or injured.  Hair turning gray seems pointless.  Joints wearing out even if you eat right and exercise is kind of unfair.  But fingernails and toenails?  Why do they have to keep growing?

I have a list of questions in my head that I’m saving to ask God when I die.  Why did my sister die at 18?  What about congenital heart defects?  Mental illness?  Hitler?  War? Cancer? AIDS?  Also, I’m compiling a list of body parts that need to evolve some more (see above).

I say that heaven will be knowing “Why?”.

A friend says maybe heaven will be not needing to know.

Published in: on January 10, 2012 at 9:07 pm  Comments (9)  
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Skin of an Elephant

We are creatures who live in a single skin throughout our lives.  Our own consciousness is embodied in a skin that grows wrinkly over time.  Our aging is obvious, no matter how much we try to resist it.

Our nearest cousins in terms of mammalian skin are elephants.

Can we be at home in our own skins, our own bodies, adjusting to the changes the various seasons of life bring to us?                                      Dwight Judy

Elephant skin?  Really??

Remember playing with the loose skin on your grandmother’s hand?  Or her floppy, un-toned triceps?

I have the hand skin thing.  I say it’s due to medication but it’s probably age-related.  And the triceps?  My trainer keeps trying different ways to work on them.

I can’t hold onto hand weights because my arthritis has damaged my wrists and fingers.  She talked me into buying black suede weight-lifting gloves.  Do they go with grey hair and black crop pants?

I sat at the bank drive-through today watching a young woman’s hand go back and forth.  It was all smooth and tan.  I looked at my own hands.

I remembered.

How many cloth diapers did they dunk?  How many sticky faces and hands and dirty feet did they bathe? How many tears did they wipe?

My hands don’t care what they look like.  They just try to do what I ask.  And I’m grateful.

My Trainers

I changed gyms and paid for one-on-one hours with a trainer.  I got Jodi.  She’s 25 (sigh) and kind.  She challenges me, but she listens when I describe how my body works.

I’ve written before about having rheumatoid arthritis (click on Rheumatoid Arthritis in the cloud of words down below on the right).  Life can be a challenge some days.

So can an 18-month-old granddaughter.  Someone asked me yesterday if she’s walking.  I said, “No, she runs.”  She’s not chubby anymore, but she is solid.  And sometimes squirmy.

So Jodi helps me strengthen my upper body and core.  And we do cardio stuff.  Ever try an elliptical machine?  I am awed by people who do it for a long time.  An hour?? My goal is to move beyond 5 minutes.

Humility and a sense of humor go to the gym with me.  (There’s a fine line between humor and self-denigration.)  I am grateful for all my body can do.  Jodi pushes me past stopping just because I want to.

I led a writing group at a drop-in center for people who are HIV-positive yesterday.  The prompt was a quote from an article by Nancy Copeland-Payton in Presence (the journal of Spiritual Directors International.)

It’s a roller coaster.  I didn’t buy a ticket, never wanted a ride…the illness will keep recurring and I will die of it.

Who am I…?  I’m no longer the person who used to be in control, who had energy to take care of tasks and other people.  Rather, I’m the one who needs care.  I’m the one who is vulnerable.  This is not an identity I choose.  Buried inside are losses that need to be cried out.  This is a long mourning process.

I finally let go of my control and let myself be vulnerable and cared for by others.  When I learn to receive their care with profound gratitude, I receive the greatest gift.  I realize how much I am loved.  It’s extraordinary.  This love lets me be even more vulnerable.

While we wrote I played a Kenny G CD (they like soft jazz).  As we finished, we listened to the music and rested.

I wrote a whiny page about not liking roller coasters and not wanting to be vulnerable.  They wrote and shared about God’s love and how their disease saved them from drugs and a wasted life and changed them for the better.  I didn’t want to share mine.

The last song we listened to (not planned by me) was Louis Armstrong singing “It’s A Wonderful Life”.  They sang along and smiled when it ended.

Amazing grace, again.

No, You Can’t!

Remember what 15 felt like?

Can I...?”  “No, you can’t.”

I want to…”  “No you can’t.”

May I please…?”  “No.”

“Why not??”

I feel like that.  It’s my body saying “No, you can’t.”  And inside I’m screaming “Why not??”.

My rheumatoid arthritis flared up all week.  It was mid-90’s hot.  And humid.  I wanted to drive 4 hours to a weekend retreat for people who are HIV-positive from all over the southeast.  Only the dining room is air-conditioned at the rustic retreat center and the paths between buildings are uneven and unpaved.

“I can’t,” I told the director of the day center where I volunteer.  “I can do hot or pain, but not both.”

I’ve read several books lately about our bodies and our spirituality.  I see layers of metaphors in my decision to take care of myself.

I allowed myself to be sad for a day or so.  Limitations frustrate me.  And I realize some of the changes in my body can’t be fixed or reversed.  My granddaughter, at 15 months, can almost outrun me.  More metaphors.

I’m not what I thought I’d be at this point in my life.  (Is anyone?)  So I pray for willingness and acceptance.  And the continuing ability to laugh!

You Can Tell By the Shoes

Spiritual Directors International held their annual conference in Atlanta this year.  My friend and I waited in line to check in at the Westin.

The Westin is 73 floors.  We (spiritual directors) were not the only ones staying at the hotel.  Men were in suits and ties, young women in sundresses or tight jeans and t-shirts.  Other women wore black pants and loose shirts or crop pants and cardigans.

“Hey, Marjorie,” I said.  “You know how to tell who is one of us?”

(It was my 3rd SDI Conference, her 1st.)

“Check out the shoes.”

She looked around the lobby.  And laughed.  We looked at our own shoes–Keen sandals for her and SAS sandals with adjustable velcro straps for me.  We laughed even more.  Spiritual Directors like comfortable, practical, wearable, walkable shoes.  Sexy?  Not so much.

My feet have required not-cheap, comfortable shoes for years.  Even for weddings.  Sigh.  (I know–who looks at the mother-of-the-bride’s shoes?  But it mattered to me.)

I bought a pair of black sneakers/walking shoes a couple of years ago.   I chose velcro straps instead of shoestrings because rheumatoid arthritis has done some damage to my finger dexerity.  (Ask my husband/kids about how I give someone “the finger” these days.  It looks like it’s in code.)

Those black shoes were kind of clunky but sort of okay with long black pants or jeans.

I couldn’t wear them.

They were really comfortable shoes.  But UGLY.  My pride and vanity won out over comfort and common sense.

I know a woman who has no car and no money for the bus.  She walks a lot.  I gave her the clunky, comfortable black shoes.

She LOVES those shoes.

The Paper (or Cloth) Bag Story

Take your problems, all of them, from the tiniest annoyances to the most horrific, difficult challenges and put all those problems into a brown paper bag or a politically-correct cloth eco-bag.

Then imagine if everyone else took all of their problems, put them into their own bags and brought them to the center of town.

Think of how many bags there would be, all piled up in one big mountain of brown paper and brightly-colored cloth bags.

If you were told you could pick any bag of problems and take it home with you, do you think you’d want someone else’s problems?

(Story borrowed from The Faith Club, by Ranya Idliby, Suzanne Oliver, and Priscilla Warner)

“Better the devil you know than the one you don’t.”  The Familiar can be quite comfortable.  It’s predictable, we think.  It’s known.  We’ve practiced dealing with it. We assume we know how things will turn out and we get ready.

My body and I have lived with rheumatoid arthritis for over 20 years.  Pain and discomfort vary.  My pain–physical, emotional, spiritual–is invisible if I choose to disguise it with humor or stoicism.  So is yours.

Remember PacMan?  That’s how I pictured my arthritis in the beginning.  The disease was an enemy force of scary little critters using my blood vessels as a superhighway to randomly chomp on my joints.  I hated them and the medications I was trying were losing a lot of battles against them.

Eventually, I gave up the anger and war images.  I had to make peace with those mean monsters inside me.  If I could be compassionate and forgiving, they might be gentler.  So I prayed for willingness.

Today we are next-door neighbors inside my body, the critters and my Spirit.  Sometimes they are noisy and intrusive, but I can shut my windows and ignore the doorbell.  They are familiar and they could be worse.  I accept them as they are and I deal with them one day at a time.

I know how to do “hard”.  I’ve had practice.  We all have.  I know I can probably handle most any problem that pops up next.

If I could pick one bag from the pile, would I pick my own again?  I’m not sure.

My Inner Two-Year-Old

Adaline is one now.  Her world is just fine unless she is hungry or tired.  Then someone takes care of her. No one expects her to be self-sufficient.  What does she have to be snotty about?  The one-year-old is usually quite content.

In a year, she will be 2.  Things will be different then, I think.

Disability came as a surprise for me after my knee replacement surgery a year ago.  I expected to hurt and hobble.  I didn’t know I would need help with everything, including going to the bathroom and bathing (which Mike insisted I do daily so my incision didn’t get infected).  I appreciate my husband’s patient and loving care through those weeks.

I wasn’t always gracious.  My inner two-year-old raged and cried and temper-tantrumed more than a few times.

I couldn’t put on a pair of pants by myself because my knee wouldn’t bend.

“Let me help.”  “I do it.”

I had to use a walker to get to the bathroom and then I had trouble standing up.

“Let me help.”  “I do it.”

I couldn’t stand up long enough to fix anything to eat.

“Let me help.”  “I do it.”

I will be sympathetic when Adaline says “I do it“, even if she can’t.

My knee is functioning well.  I am grateful daily for what I am able to do on my own.

I can take my own showers and go to the bathroom alone and even put on my pants easily.  Maybe one day that won’t be the case.  I do wonder if I should have long-term-care insurance.

Today, just for today, I did what I wanted.  My inner two-year-old is very grateful.

Durable Goods

Definition of durable: able to exist for a long time without significant deterioration.

Durable goods are products whose usefulness continues for a number of years and that are not consumed or destroyed in a single usage. They are able to withstand repeated use; not disposable.

My friend said I was durable.  I think that was a compliment.

I’ve had rheumatoid arthritis for over 20 years.  More than one doctor has lectured me about the dangers of falling, including the possibility of shattering my wrists.  I’ve been careful.  Mostly.

I tripped starting up some concrete steps heading into a meeting.  I remember my forehead hitting a step and I ended up on my hands and knees, blinded in one eye by the blood gushing from my forehead.

A woman walked up right after I fell.  She got some very capable help who kept me (and the gathering group of concerned people) calm until the ambulance came.  I got four stitches in my forehead, had some bad scrapes on one hand and arm and developed two amazing black eyes.  A CT scan of my head and hand x rays were fine.

I was lucky.  I was never in much pain and the injured parts are healing.

I sent an email to warn some friends about how I looked.  One said she was glad I was so durable.

Durable  (says is abiding, constant, dependable, enduring, lasting, permanent, persistent, reliable, stable, strong, tenacious, and tough.

Durable means I’ve been in pain, learned from it, and come out okay.

Durable is good.

Nobody Ever Told Me

1.  Nobody ever told me sugar can cause/increase inflammation.  I learned it very reluctantly from a nutritionist named Bernadette.  I gave up sugar for a while.  Then I ate a lot of ice cream.  The next day my rheumatoid arthritis was noticeably more painful.  The sugar had increased the inflammation in my joints which caused more pain. Bummer.  (Click here for more information.)

2.  Nobody ever told me girls should exercise and be fit.  Or I didn’t hear it until I was an adult and had 2 kids.  I will pay the price for that all my life.  At least I didn’t pass that attitude on to the next generation.

3.  Nobody ever told me that being a mother-in-law could be as challenging as having a mother-in-law.

4.  Nobody ever told me the birth of a grandchild could trigger such a mishmash of feelings.  I feel joy and a pure, unconditional love that must be how God feels about us.  But I have also been stunned on a soul level by the realization that we are now the oldest generation and that Adaline’s life will (should) go on long after mine ends.

On the other hand,

1.  Mothers with daughters older than mine did tell me the teenage years of mother-disgust would eventually end.  And they did.  (Nobody told me the daughter might not remember the worst of those times.)

2.  Friends who had been through it told me that leaving my first child at college (in Washington, DC–the murder capital of America in 1996!!) would tear out a piece of my heart and then it would heal.  Then they told me it would happen again with the second daughter.  They were right.

3.  Friends who had grandchildren before me (the ones I snickered at) tried to tell me how remarkable it was.  Now I am just as goofy-in-love as all of them.

4.  My aunt (the mother of my swimmer-cousin) in Iowa, where winters are really cold, told me that kids do not get sick from going outside with wet hair.  That was reassuring when my swimmer-daughters with wet hair halfway down their backs strolled from the locker room to the car all winter.  They stayed amazingly healthy.

The wisest things anyone has told me?

All we can do is love them all and pray for them.  The rest is up to them and God.  And I’m not God.