I’ve been a delusionist all my life. Never comfortable with the harshness of reality, I early-on developed the ability to pretty much ignore it unless it was somehow physically impossible to do so. It worked well for seven decades. If I chose to see the world in a certain light, I did so, and no one was harmed or basically the wiser. (When, for example, as a gay man I see an attractive man on the street, I automatically assume he is gay. Whether he is or not is entirely beside the point; I think he’s gay, so he is. It gives me quiet pleasure, and harms no one.)
When I was five years old, I had absolutely no interest in being six…or sixteen, or anywhere beyond. I most certainly never wanted to be a “grown-up.” Grown-ups were almost a separate species to which I had no interest in belonging…and, largely, I have managed to avoid doing so. Even into my 40s and beyond, I still found it difficult to think of myself as a “man” because men are grown-ups. (If this sounds childish to you, well, I rest my case.)
However, as the years mount up and it becomes impossible to ignore the ravages of time, the little boy in me grows increasingly frightened at what is happening to him. Being a delusionist works fine for seeing the world from the inside, but not nearly so well when the physical body is involved. I have never been more aware of, and frightened by, it than following my recent trip to Europe. I, who as a 22-year-old, bounded up the slopes of the Acropolis with ease on a hot summer’s day in 1956, found the 2014 August heat incredibly draining. Though bottles of water were distributed by the cruise line, because I now am unable to lift my head high enough to drink normally from a bottle, I recognized the very real threat of becoming quickly dehydrated.
I’m sure there were crowds on the Acropolis in 1956, but in 2014 it was difficult to see anything but people, especially since despite my sincere efforts to increase my head and neck flexibility with Botox treatments, I was unable to lift my head up high enough even to look people in the eye, let alone see over their heads.
Age brings with it totally unexpected surprises. For nearly 70 years there was never any question that my body would do whatever I wanted of it. I didn’t even really have to make any effort between thinking of an action and my body’s doing it. I realize now that this was a very large delusion on my part; I assumed body and mind were the same. They are not. I must spend more and more time now trying to convince my body to do something, with less and less confidence that it will do it.
Where I could stand up on the toes of one foot and spin around like a top, I no longer even try. I do not run—I lumber and lurch awkwardly. Equilibrium, yet another of the myriads of things we take for granted, is increasingly unreliable. Where I used to walk purposefully, I now frequently find myself hearing my shoes shuffling on the sidewalk without my being aware of it. Whereas walking in a straight line was automatic, I now find myself occasionally weaving. Where I routinely walked—or bounced—up and down stairs two at a time, I now do one at a time. I have not yet reached the point where I must step up or down with one foot and bring the other foot up or down to the same step before proceeding to the next, I fear it is only a matter of time.
Of course I feel terribly sorry for myself. I am, after all, like all small children, an extreme egoist. But I sincerely see myself as a latter-day Paul Revere, sounding a warning of what lies ahead for you, in hopes you may handle it better than I have.
There are many people in their 80s and even 90s who have much more control over their physical lives than I, and that realization is a great blow to my lifelong sense of invincibility. I have relied upon my delusions all my life and now find myself being stripped of them. It is not a comfortable position to be in, I can assure you.
But though I realize that I cannot escape the inevitability of “that good night,” I still do not intend to go gentle into it.
Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. Please take a moment to visit his website (http://www.doriengrey.com) and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (http://bit.ly/m8CSO1), which is also available as an audiobook (http://www.audible.com/pd/
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