When I was younger (how did I get old enough to use that phrase?) virtually nothing felt inevitable. Not bad things like doctor’s appointments or my parents getting into yet another shouting match, and not good things like the beginning of summer vacation and Christmas. Reality might twist into some hitherto unknown shape and accommodate my will and desire: the bad receding forever into the future, the good lingering forever in the present. Age and experience, of course, taught me otherwise. The river of Time rushes along, carrying me with it, and I either figure out how to ride its currents or find myself battered on the rocks or trapped in an eddy.
For some time now I’ve begun looking for those inevitables, to anticipate, prepare and adapt as best I can. These are some that have been on my mind recently.
– There seems to be no getting around the hot new normal of summers in Atascadero. As the rising average temperatures for an increasing number of days per season interacts unpleasantly with my rising age and increasing heat intolerance (although I wasn’t a warm weather girl even when I was young), every summer I find myself contemplating flight from the area – either seasonal or permanent. In a last ditch effort to stave off the more disruptive remedy of moving, our south facing patio has sprouted two large umbrellas, and we’re replacing all of the old double-paned windows with Low-E, argon gas filled ones. At least then, hopefully, the air conditioning will be able to do its job more efficiently.
– Our dog’s health had been going along swimmingly, but this last checkup there were some oddities to her blood work and urine sample that suggested, in the vet’s delicate phrasing, possible kidney “insufficiency.” In case it’s just an anomaly we’re waiting a couple of months before taking her in for a full kidney panel, but it raises the sad specter of Guinness’ mortality, and our old lab Harley’s long, difficult struggle with kidney failure. One thing we’ve learned from previous experience: break out the steak and chicken earlier, while it’s still enjoyable.
– Since our local trash company provided our neighborhood with a kitchen vegetable waste bin, I have been trying to be more conscious of conservation. To that end and because space in our kitchen is tight, I bought a dual bin trash can, with a large space for recycling and a smaller one for trash. It should be win-win, and yet I struggle with tradeoffs. Because the bins are smaller, I have to take the trash out more often, which means more plastic bags used. Is that a good thing? Containers with food need to be thoroughly rinsed, but we’re supposed to be saving water. So what do I do? It starts to feel as if, inevitably, there are no perfect choices, only less bad ones.
– Sometimes I feel age coming for me as well as our dog. Slightly less attentive, slightly less dexterous (although again, I wasn’t known for my agility when I was young either). I try to be mindful of my balance when I’m up on a ladder, and when descending constantly chant the number of steps to the ground. I have chain mail gloves for grating cheese, as my hand has more of a tendency to slip than it used to and ripping all the skin from knuckles takes a while to recover from. I cut the bottoms off of round fruits and vegetables – cantaloupe, watermelon, butternut squash – so I have a stable surface for making long cuts, decreasing the likelihood that the knife will skip and take out a few tendons in my palm. To be honest, I probably should have been doing these things all along, but wisdom and planning now need to supplement physical responsiveness to impending disaster if I want to emerge unscathed.
– Moving my parents from their home to assisted living years ago was, to put it mildly, a disaster. The house and garage were crammed full of stuff. There were the necessities of daily living, of course, and cherished items of memory and nostalgia. But there were also piles of broken, expired, or highly redundant things – twenty bottles of teriyaki sauce, four VCR players when DVDs had been in vogue for years, 50 boxes of latex gloves – that were the detritus of both the creeping fatigue of old age and my father’s fearful, Alzheimer’s addled mind. The experience of emptying everything out prior to sale made me come home and look around with a critical eye. If our CDs are all ripped to MP3s, why haven’t we carted them off to a used music store? If we aren’t going to fly radio-controlled planes again, why are now obsolete radios and half-built gliders still in the studio? How often can we buy ebooks instead of print? Much as we love it, this is not an age-friendly house or property, and we can make the day when we will almost inevitably leave it more or less painful by paring down now instead of later.
– I am more uneasy about our country and our world’s future than I have been in a very long time, and I keep looking for ways to batten down our hatches. Suspicion and anger have roiled society before, and I try to foster that little spark of hope that we’ll step back from this brink as well. Perhaps we can even summon the collective will to do something about climate change before it’s too late. But just in case…I keep more water, canned goods and other non-perishable food around than I used to. I’d like to have solar, though our shaded property doesn’t really support it. At the very least, once we’ve recovered financially from the new windows, it would be nice to add a Tesla Powerwall or two, to provide more control over when we pull from the grid and to give us a cushion against outages.
– And if we don’t step back from the brink, then what? I read about slashed CDC budgets, and worry. I read about the eroding Arctic, and worry. I read about China withholding avian flu samples from the United States and WHO, and worry. I read about extremism and isolationism on the rise all over the world, and worry. Floods and pandemics and wars have a wonderful way of focusing the mind away from trivialities like whether kneeling at football games is unpatriotic: at least for the survivors. I had hoped for a peaceful old age, but the possibility seems increasingly remote. I could just stop reading, but that doesn’t make the inevitable any less…inevitable.
– If some sort of disaster – physical or economic – doesn’t strike, we have been able to be diligent about saving for retirement, which raises the pleasant possibility of my husband being able to stop working before he hits sixty-five. (Since I’m seven years older then he is, this is doubly appealing.) Kicking around retirement options on our most recent day trip to Big Sur, we got to talking about travel as a way of finding material for photography and writing. An RV would be clunkier than we’d want, and camping isn’t A Thing That Will Happen, but then the subject of Mercedes Benz Sprinter van conversions came up. Perhaps it’s just romanticizing, but I feel a certain surge of excitement at the thought of living light, seeing new things, meeting new people, having new experiences. Especially at a time of life when it would be just as easy to turn inward and grow isolated.
– This is all predicated on continuing good health, of course, and the world not crashing down around us, but not all inevitables need to be negative.