Aging comes for all of us. Being in denial won't shield you from its destruction.
My time has arrived. "Batter's up!"
For several months recently I lived with profound existential dread. I pondered what my life would be like without activities that give me joy. No motorcycle-riding, no reading and writing, no outdoor communing with nature. I wondered what the point of living would be if I couldn't appreciate fine art, savor conversation with friends or see a small child's smile?
In hindsight that reaction was extreme but you'll be surprised where your mind goes when it feels threatened. Contemplating a future without vision led me to dark places.
This is not a woe-is-me personal essay; rather, I want to alert you to the certainty that at some point in your life you'll start losing your sensory abilities. It's inevitable and the result of natural aging. I asked my doctor yesterday why my eyesight has deteriorated and she confessed science doesn't always know. It could be residual effects of damage to my body caused by chickenpox a half-century ago; it could be biological changes from the COVID I contracted last September; it also could be viral impacts from the RSV I caught two months ago. Our bodies are complex, fragile systems that can endure only so much before, at a critical point, collapsing. My present condition is likely a multi-factored consequence of simply existing as a biological organism for six decades.
This fate comes for us no matter how much we try to prevent it. My persistent, long-standing efforts at maintaining health and strength through good diet (mostly vegetarian with lots of unprocessed food), regular exercise, etc. carried me only so far. It took me farther than neglect would have but not far enough to the land of immortality we all fantasize of reaching.
For three months last Fall I was almost completely-blind. I struggled with that condition emotionally as well as physically. I fortunately recovered most of my vision in November but then was whacked with RSV in Febuary. That illness plunged me again into complete darkness. Fully blind for a month, my eyesight slightly improved in March but then hit a plateau -- and not an adequate one.
Currently I can see only about 20%, am blinded by sunlight and have clouds in my eyes obstructing vision. I can't see clearly beyond five feet. I can't drive or ride a motorcycle. I can barely read with the assistance of high magnification and dimmed brightness.
Normal life alters starkly when your senses become impaired. Every day I spill things when trying to make a cup of tea or daily food. I got a bad burn on my hand while cooking. I bump into product-displays shopping local stores. I've come dangerously close several times to getting hit by cars walking outdoors. Experiences like this are new and unwelcome.
How do we react to life-altering change? Usually not well. Just before John Fetterman achieved his life's goal of becoming a U.S. Senator (D.Penn.), he suffered a stroke that affected his ability to hear and process words. That, in turn, caused him to fall into deep, clinical depression. Fetterman stopped eating, stopped getting out of bed and gave up on doing normal stuff. His family pushed him into month-long rehabilitation where medication and psychological care pulled him out of despair. Fetterman's now attempting to return to duty in the Senate. He still suffers sensory impairment but, with auditory equipment and familial support, is finding a way to enjoy life again.
Some of us can do that (with or without professional help), some of us can't. When I was young I couldn't imagine why anyone would ever kill themselves. Now I do. Viscerally. When what makes life meaningful and pleasant for you is taken away, cruelly and often suddenly, what's left to live for? It takes a lot of imagination and fortitude to forge past that gauntlet. Not all of us have it. You'll find out yourself some day and I hope it's late in life, like your 90s, and not earlier like your 60s (or worse).
This report from Down The Road We'll All Travel has a point: i.e., appreciate your good health. Today. Mindfully be grateful for your ability to do simple tasks like make coffee. Or watch a hockey game. Don't somnambulate through the good years or you'll regret it when good turns to bad. Sadly, it inevitably will. Taste and savor every day, starting now.