I’m not surprised to hear these words from the surgeon sitting across from me. Aside from his appearance (he looks like he is 12) I think I trust him. I did the google on him, and evidently his competent 12 year old hands and brain have a brilliant success rate.
For months now I have had increasing pain in my hip. When treatments, physical therapy, and sheer grit did not work, I decided to see a surgeon.
So I find myself sitting across from a stranger who is showing me an X-ray of my hip. What I see is not pretty.
“Can I tell people it’s a skiing accident?” I ask. I think I whined, but I can’t remember. He laughs. He thinks I’m joking.
But my pride is hurt. My vanity is wounded. I feel far too young to have a hip replacement, especially when I can blame it on nothing but arthritis. If only I was an athlete – a runner, a skier, an aerobics instructor!
I am none of these things.
I am a 57 year old woman with arthritis.
Just saying it makes me want to curl up in dismay.
Secretly, I think we all believe that aging is for other people, not for us. We secretly remark on how “grey and wrinkled so and so is getting,” while in the mirror the wrinkles hide under the perfect make up foundation – denial.
Denial paints our bodies and skin in the flawless glow of youth, even as we marvel at the years weighing others down.
Aging is not for the timid, not for the fearful, and I fear I am both.
In late February I visited my parents in Florida. Though they live in Rochester, New York, they have tried to get away for a couple of months the last few winters. Rochester is cold, snowy, and icy. It’s a fall waiting to happen and the prospect of warmer weather drew them to warmer climates. So at the end of February I found myself visiting them in Panama City Beach.
This area is known for its incredible turquoise water and white sand. The contrast is stunning. Along with this contrast is the contrast between the young and beautiful and the snow bird aging population.
The weekend did not turn out the way we expected, but we still deeply enjoyed each other’s company. As I looked with eyes of love on my parents I realized that I don’t like the aging process. But as I watched them, I recognized that I am not afraid for them – I’m afraid for me. I don’t have the kind of stamina and courage they do. I don’t have the faith that they do. I am not brave. I do not want to age.
It is a relief to admit this. I do not want to age. It’s not about the wrinkles, though they are tough. It’s about the body.
Aging is hard work, and I am lazy. Aging is for the courageous, and I am not.
I don’t feel sorry for my parents. They have taken all the changes with incredible grace. Their minds are alert and active. They live independently. They take their pills with discipline and a good deal of humor and grace.
I feel sorry for me – because I clearly have some things to learn about life and the body, and I better learn them quickly.
Perhaps being honest about this surgery is my first step. Perhaps admitting publicly that I am vain, that I have to have a hip replacement, and that it is NOT because of a skiing accident, or a marathon run, or a heroic act of physical courage is the best first step.
I wake up this morning and I take off the make up of denial, and I pray for courage and strength to face a reality that every human being who lives longer than 50 has to face: The reality of aging.
But I still may tell people that it’s because of a skiiing accident….,