Expecting New Year’s resolutions from me? Nope, I’m not the type. I am so thrilled to have survived another year that I’m holding on for all I’m worth. Not giving up anything. Running like the devil is on my tail. I even get windburn when I’m typing at the computer. That’s when it happened.
Just my annual check-up. Don’t you hate it when women of a certain age talk about their health issues? Me, too, even to a physician’s assistant. It’s an off-year for the pelvic, so it starts on a high note. I need a mammogram which reminds me of my biggest fantasy fear; that I sneeze. You’re welcome. I don’t lie about my foot; it’s undeniably creepy and she pokes at it like a cadaver in a lab. We talk about my chronic thing which, predictably, remains chronic.
Did I mention I turned sixty-five last fall? It’s my first Medicare appointment so they gave me a blood draw, a couple of shots for old people, and an eye test with my glasses on, which I failed because I had to cover one eye but when put my hand under my glasses, I poked myself. The nurse walks the distance from the eye chart down the hallway to me to demonstrate that I can just cup my hand over my glasses.
I got lost on the way back to the exam room, but that could easily have been my recent vision impairment and not my age. Now I wait, gathering whatever flimsy shreds of dignity have dropped down around my ankles like so much worn cotton underwear. That’s it. I should have told them I was a poet.
And that’s when the PA came into the room and handed me a lime green DNR order for my fridge. Do Not Resuscitate. A living will is the kind term, and I should have had one of these with me at all times in my twenties. I have put DNR orders up on my parent’s fridge twice. It is a rite of passage, my first DNR. It is a reminder that I am not special. I will become prey to the most common and ordinary thing in the world, I will die.
Alert the media, call out the national guard, I will not get younger and my hair will not get thicker, although I am growing a decent beard. “Are you retired?” the Physician Assistant asked. I told her no and that I worked outside. She was not a hard sell. Not that I don’t know what lotion is, but I could still file a hoof with my bare hands. The PA doesn’t weigh that much more than a bale of hay, now I consider my options.
“What do you do?” she said.
Perhaps I will need to consider laying down my dream of dancing the lead in Swan Lake. On a draft horse in a tutu, (the horse, not me.) Clearly my sense of humor is aging like a fine bottle of fruity pink wine, no worries there. Still, when I’m out mucking in the herd, I have a habit of looking around, reckoning ages, and knowing animals never die in chronological order, any more than we do. It’s crucial to have a real plan for their care, I do work in a dangerous job, even if I’m on Medicare. I look for signs of mortality, they call it anticipatory grieving. It won’t happen, but I cheerfully hope they all die before me.
I mourn my animals and yours with respect and honor. It can’t be overstated. They deserve our tears. At the same time, I can’t help but notice they do this whole death and dying thing so much better than we do. Xenophon, who was one of the first to write about compassionate training around 400BC, said, “Excess of grief for the dead is madness; for it is an injury to the living, and the dead know it not.” I bet horses taught him that, too.
Cry it out, you must mourn those you love, human or horse, forever. Mourning is exactly as common as death and death is as common as dirt. I don’t think mourning was ever meant to be a calling, but rather a call to action. How do we honor their lives?
Is there some goal you’ve been talking about doing forever? Do you bring it out on sad days to remind yourself it’s one more thing you have failed at? Do you take every opportunity to look in the mirror through swollen eyelids, with food at the corner of your mouth, and make excuses why aren’t you writing, learning to fly, galloping across Siberia? Do you still want that dream or has it become a bad habit; a dead fish you use to beat yourself over the head with? Does it work as an excuse to season other dreams with despair, maybe a way that you die a little every day? Because none of the rest of us care, we’re too obsessed with ourselves, and you could lose a hundred ugly pounds by tossing that rotting mess tied around your neck. Hooray, a new lease on life!
Are you testy about letting go? Is your dream not rotting but just resting? Are you waiting for permission from the universe? That’s what wrinkles and a sagging belly are for; the less-than-polite reminder that the clock is ticking and you aren’t dead yet. Dreams are great but living them is much better. It will not be easier next year, you will never know everything, and yes, you will stumble. Again, as ordinary as dirt. If you want to learn to swim, you must get in the pool. You’ve lived long enough to know that nothing of any value ever comes cheaply. Is it time to pay up on that dream? It’s just a fact; people younger than us die every day. If not now, when?
Sometimes all this positive just-do-it attitude is painful, even demeaning. Sometimes it just isn’t physically possible or financially doable. The dream is there but the timing is wrong. Or you’ve aged-out of the possibility. Don’t go weepy about it. Do something you can be proud of. You can still write hate mail to the BLM, to The Jockey Club. Not satisfying enough? Hang out at the courthouse and glare at those who deserve it. Take knitting if you can get the needles past security. We’re very scary when knitting.
Maybe we renegotiate the deal. Okay, if dancing the swan part is out, what can we have? I’m cranky that the coquettish ingenues get all the good roles. What are my post-Cinderella options? Wait! Aren’t we just right for being Fairy Godmothers? How sweet would it be to launch a young woman with my dreams on her way? Wasn’t that always part of the dream, that someone appreciated what we did and maybe gave a leg-up?
With an old donkey as my mentor, I plan to continue aging cantankerously. I am going to die, but not just yet. I still have a few thousand horses to meet because I am really starting to figure them out. But it’s time to pay it forward and bring horse-crazy girls along to the barn. They are our legacy. I think I’ll take to wearing a cone-shaped hat with a musty lavender veil just in case.
Anna Blake at Infinity Farm
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