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by Julia Sneden

Whenever I attend one of my granddaughters swimming meets, I am seized with intense nostalgia that borders on jealousy. No, correct that; it is jealousy, although it is mitigated by pride and delight as I watch her stroke down the lane in her beautiful, even crawl. The sight triggers memories of how it feels to be young and strong, and reaching for the rewards that effort and discipline can bring. Believe me, I am happy for her.

But it would be hard not to envy her that joy, because as she comes into her own, I am increasingly aware that my physical and mental powers are slowly dwindling despite my earnest efforts to hang onto them.

Im an active person, but my balance is beginning to fray around the edges, and the strength in my hands is nowhere near what it was just a couple of years ago. Neither is my mental agility. Focus and swift recall are both showing signs of wear from my accumulating years.

No, I dont think I am developing Alzheimers. I do realize that memory lapses are common to anyone my age, and I take comfort in the fact that while the neurons and synapses function more slowly, they do function. If I cant instantly recall a fact or a name, I know that if I just stop trying, it will float up when its good and ready (sometimes at 2 a.m., sometimes in the midst of an unrelated conversation, sometimes days later).

I dont waste time worrying about the problem. When my memory glitches, I tell myself that I simply know too much, and have overloaded my mental circuits. After all, when my computer tries to handle too much, it, too, slows down. Unfortunately, I cant just go out to the computer store and buy myself a new brain.

Poet Dylan Thomass advice on dealing with the diminishments of aging is:

Do not go gently into the good night...

Rage, rage against the dying of the light!

Thats a breathtaking bit of bravado, but Im not sure many of us can muster the energy to follow his advice. I could rage, I guess, if I really worked at it, but somehow I dont want to go out of this world expending a lot of effort on anger.

It seems to me that a sense of humor serves better. Its true that having a good laugh at yourself requires the exercise of hard-earned perspective, but its not a bad alternate response to the fact that life is a terminal condition.

When I start feeling start feeling envious of my granddaughter, or too nostalgic about the days when I was young and strong and swimming my own beautiful crawl, I remind myself that there is more to being young and strong than just feeling terrific. No age has a lock on an easy life.

A while back, there was a day when my granddaughter came home upset because a group of girls had hurt her feelings. She is eleven, and dealing with the angst that goes with the beginnings of adolescence.

A vivid memory of all that misery instantly replayed in my mind. The confusions, anxieties, doubts, fears, etc. that plagued my life back then have not been forgotten, even though I learned long ago to keep them in their place. At eleven or twelve, you may have a host of friends, or you may get great grades, or you may be a good athlete, but youre still vulnerable to the jerks of the world. Mean girls is the new term, but its not a new concept. And as the mother of sons, I know that the phenomenon isnt restricted to girls: groups of boys can be just as rotten.

On top of that, theres the confusion that your own body dumps on you as it starts to do grown-up things even if youre not yet ready to stop being a kid.

It strikes me that we waste a lot of time and energy envying others, in all the stages of our lives. When I was in high school, I used to look out the classroom window to see cars driving by, or women wheeling babies in strollers, and Id think: Lucky grownups. Theyre free from the regimen of school. Little did I know about other imperatives like 2 a.m. feedings, or running a household, or supporting a family, never mind frantic trips to the doctors office/emergency room with yet another bleeding son.

Once I finished school and started my own family, I began to envy the working women I knew, who didnt always smell of spit-up, and could afford nice clothes, or decide to see a movie whenever they wanted without worrying about finding a sitter.

Back in the work force after my children were older, I envied youngsters who were off to college, with all those possibilities open before them (as someone else paid the bills). And ultimately, of course, it occurred to me to envy retired folk, their lives unstructured or constrained by duties.

Well, now I envy anyone who doesnt have to worry about finances, or who doesnt have bad knees, or extra pounds, or relatives and friends who seem to be dying off wholesale.

I try to be stern with myself and ignore my jealous nature, but somehow the green-eyed monster is never quieted for long.

My grandmother would be reminding me of the 10th commandment: Thou shalt not covet. But perhaps its human nature to look around and wish for something you dont have. The alternative would lend to a kind of self-satisfied smugness that is at the very least unattractive, and at the most, would lead to a kind of stasis. After all, if there were nothing to envy, there would be no reason to grow and change.

Perhaps we should embrace our inner Green-Eyed Monster every now and then, and have a good laugh with him as we recognize him for the silly fellow that he is. The world may be cruel at times, but as some wise soul said, its all weve got.

©2009 Julia Sneden for SeniorWomenWeb


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