Thursday, August 18, 2011

Shouldering On

As a rule, I like to think I can shoulder the weight of life's responsibilities as well as the next person, but lately my right shoulder has been letting me down.

My body has always worked pretty dependably (knock on wood). Sure, I've been occasionally downed by pneumonia or a dislocation here or there, but I rarely get sick, have never broken a bone, and am generally used to having my body able to do what I ask of it.
As a 61-year-old, I realize that I've been dealt better cards than most.

Nonetheless, at some point last month I woke up one morning with a sore right shoulder, where it was awkward raising my arm above my head or lifting items away from my body. This debilitation wasn't associated with any memorable trauma and I didn't think much about it—until I devoted myself to a period of intense construction on Ma'ikwe's cistern. During the nine-day stretch of July 14-22, I worked on the cistern seven days, placing hundreds of concrete blocks, pouring myriad buckets of grout, and surface bonding 1000 square feet of block wall. The heavy repetitive work was exactly what my shoulder didn't need. Ufda.
After the last day, I couldn't lift my right arm above my head if my life depended on it.

The good news is that I'm steadily recovering now that I'm no longer pushing a trowel or schlepping bags of Portland cement. Two weeks ago I couldn't even sleep on my right side; now I can (at least for a little).

It's fascinating to observe how the aging process intersects with the healing process. Increasingly, when I do some non-regular thing—especially something requiring physical dexterity, strength, or stamina—I find myself pausing to wonder if I may be doing that thing for the last time. I have, for example, given up ice skating and roller skating (as I reached the point where the joy was overshadowed by my distaste for recovering from falls).

This is not an all-at-once process, where my sure-I'll-try-anything-once attitude suddenly switched to just say no. I've reached the point of no return at different ages for different things. For example, I recall making the decision in my early 30s that I was no longer willing to squirm through the crawl space under the house to thaw frozen water pipes. On the other end, I doubt I'll ever sky dive or run a marathon.

Still, I like working with my body and am not casual about letting something go. Each transition is a choice point, carefully considered.

I still fell large trees with a chain saw, and I still do masonry work (in fact, I've done both in the last 30 days). I'm fervently hoping I haven't taken my last wilderness canoe trip but who knows (my last venture into Canadian waters was in 2006, before my son started having kids, and I'm pretty sure I'll be too old for it by the time my grandkids (Taivyn & Connor) are big enough to think it's cool to paddle all day for week with Grandpa. How long will I be walking the three miles over to Dancing Rabbit to see Ma'ikwe? I've been thinking about building a passive house as a new FIC office (to replace our funky 1970s-era house trailer)—do I have it in me to honcho that project? I stopped jogging about 15 years ago, yet I still do yoga most days when I'm home.

A few weeks ago I was canning barbecue sauce. Around midnight—after being in the kitchen for 14 hours—I realized I wasn't going to have enough pint mason jars to run the second five-gallon batch through the hot water bath, and I was just too tired to think about hoisting myself into the attic and single-handedly retrieving more jars. Instead, I turned off the burners and let it sit until the next day. Five years ago, I would have gotten the jars and soldiered on.

These days I'm rubbing my shoulder and thinking about it.

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