Frail

March 19, 2011

Gabe, we’re home, I yelled up to our middle kid, on a break from college, as we walked in the door. I repeated the call. Silence. “Gabe, we’re back,” Meredith announced loudly. “Hey mom, he replied. Is Dad with you?” That was not the first time someone just did not hear me, but I cannot grow used to it. I try to raise the volume but cannot find the strength to be heard. The inability to project is my constant reminder of a weakening body.

We head into a revolving door, and I, being occasionally polite, invite Meredith to go first. She continues walking into the store, the revolving door stops, trapping me within. I cannot push it. To make matters more awkward, people are waiting to get in and see my cane. So they just wait. No one wants to be the one to knock me over. The stalemate continues until I summon the strength to conclude the circular journey and enter the store I do not want to browse in the first place.

This is relatively new to me. Progressive diseases progress, and it probably was just a matter of time. The other day, we ran an errand. I am the non-driver always riding shotgun. When Meredith parked the car the other day, it leaned slightly to the left. I was not able to joust with a little bit of gravity and could not open my door. I would throw my weight against it, but the door would swing closed before I could get even a leg out. Meredith was looking at a brochure and was long gone.

When I could not drag my right leg into a cab before the sliding door closed, a nice young woman, waiting for a bus, walked into the street to hold the door until my leg was safely inside before letting it close. All of these incidents accumulate, adding up to an aging man who feels as if he could blow away in the wind or get punched out by a girl scout.

Everyday I look around me on the streets of New York. I hobble along as people of all ages brush by me, not rudely, only hurriedly. I stop and stare at strangers running up or down subway stairs, their arms full, paying no attention to their feet and whistling a happy tune. How do they do that, I wonder. Watching them makes me dizzy.

It is terrible to be surrounded by healthy, happy folks and to feel old and frail beyond my years. If I kept a ledger of every incident, each flaw and crack in my armor that demands my psychic attention, I would have little left to spread around my family and in my work. There has to be a formula for getting past these annoyances.

That is what they are-annoyances-and that should be my ticket away from taking them seriously. A bad haircut is an annoyance. The problem is that these incidents are harbingers of what may increasingly happen to me in my life, where my illness may take me. The phrase, may take me, offers some comfort in the absence of the words, will take me.

One of the challenges to living with a disease like MS is to tolerate ambiguity, not comfortable for the many, needing and seeking resolution. Who knows where this process will leave me? Actually, I have been knocked off my feet by the winter wind blowing off the Hudson River. The studio where I write faces the river, and I feel like an old kite when I leave the office on some days.

I am growing frail. That is not a fear for the future but a reality of today. Deal with it, I tell myself. Work at home when the weather is boisterous. Ask for help, opening heavy doors. That is not my strong suit, but it beats thanking strangers who pause to lift me from a prone position on the sidewalk. I did not ask for this, but neither did the many millions who struggle to survive and fight psychic battles along their journeys.

My aging mother still serves as a role model for me. She is too thin, a bit unsteady on her feet and reluctant to walk on or even near ice. High winds keep her off the street, and life’s aches and pains can throw her. Despite her predictable fears, she loves life and thrives on new adventures. The lady adores her grandchildren and her own kids, even me. Mom is not afraid to board a train or plane if there is something or someone she wants to see at the end of her trip. She is not afraid to die. My mother will be ninety on her next birthday. I should do so well.

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