A word or two about words, and walks, and getting older

About Joe Biden…

But first about me, because I’m a pretty good exemplar of the things that gradually happen to us as age imposes itself.

(I’m not citing diseases; they’re not necessarily age-related.)

Maybe some arthritis. Initially, the changes are sort of surprising. Starting with my fingers. Were a couple of them leaning off-center? There was no pain but, yes, there was bending. I learned this was called osteoarthritis. Very slowly the curves increased, although the painlessness held on. At no point, not even today as I type this (200 or more wpm) or later when I chop vegetables (I’m fast), does the crookedness interfere with functioning. Ergo, I pay no attention.

Tremors? A few years ago, I noticed a little tremor in those same fingers. How quickly was it when I, by myself, decided it wasn’t any progressive ailment requiring a medical consult? Couple of months. It has not progressed, and I saw that some friends my age also had trembling fingers. They don’t interfere with (a) typing or (b) chopping veggies, or turning book pages, so…

Balance. Once I read part of an advice column about balance in the Health section of the Times. “Part,” because I found it a bit boring so I skipped to the last paragraph, where I learned the writer stood on one foot as she brushed her teeth (with an electric toothbrush), even though her husband laughed at her. Hm, I thought, this is a way of doubling the utility of those two dull tooth-brushing minutes.

Still, even though I stand on one foot, age has had an effect on my balance. Once I eliminated from explanation my naturally low blood pressure — which can cause dizziness on occasion — I had to accept there was some acquired wobble in my walk. Rather than careen down the sidewalk as if a bit buzzed on some substance, I’ve slowed down my erstwhile speedy walk to a manageable velocity and I pay a bit of attention to where my feet are landing.

But I am able to run a mile at home, moving forward and back-pedaling, using a method I think I picked up from the Danes. I don’t topple.

When I was in my 20s, I walked fast and noticed nothing except what was going on in my head. Later on, I emerged from my head and began noticing the wondrous things around me.

Today, now that my walking speed has slowed somewhat, I had the time to spot a tiny bug, maybe a spider, racing like mad alongside an apartment building. I leaned closer. It was red, with white spots.

Speak, Memory! Names. I’ve forgotten names. It started years ago when my internal database informed me it was cleansing itself of all insignificant names, primarily actors from long-ago TV series. Ergo, my memory database has room for new useful knowledge, like inquiring of Google how to fold contour sheets.

And Wikipedia! How great is Wikipedia? So great I even donate to it every year when what’s-his-name asks me to. (Is it important for me to remember what’s-his-name’s name? I don’t think so and I’ll bet what’s-his-name doesn’t care either.)

My memory, though, retains both long-ago and recent names and incidents that are significant. When I read something of importance, I remember it and can connect it to other important concerns. That is, I’m still eager to learn and to think about what I’ve learned.

Yes, my speech has slowed a little. I’m not sure why since my vocabulary remains up to snuff. When I speak to friends, I do pause here and there before spilling the whole thought out. My friends don’t mind; they do the same thing.

But if some irritating reporter pressed me over and over with an irrelevant question, my mouth would be pretty quick to say, “Oh fuck you.”

What I could not do today is what I never have been able to do: walk up to a podium, make a coherent speech about complex matters and respond fully to questions asked by a crowd of reporters over a large range of complicated issues. I couldn’t do it. Joe Biden can.

We may, as we age, walk slower and more carefully. We may forget names or the occasional word. We may speak with some hesitancy — even if we don’t have long-standing speech problems.

None of those signs of aging has anything to do with the full functioning of our minds, our capacity to absorb knowledge, to reason and to communicate our reasoning. And none of those minor infirmities erases our senses of humor.

The body may fumble but the brain does not.

Brought to you entirely via Naomi’s fast fingers which received dictation from Naomi’s brain.

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3 Responses to A word or two about words, and walks, and getting older

  1. Susan Thaler says:

    Really great piece, Naomi! I’ve experienced (am still experiencing) all the above: Balance issues, arthritis, memories that require a little nudging but that eventually come to the fore, etc. But, hey, I still love rock n’ roll and that’s what counts, right?

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