Breaking the Age Barrier

Age never used to concern me much at all. When I was young, I was in no hurry to be a teenager, or sweet sixteen. Nor did I see any reason to rush to the magical age of twenty-one. I was always content, at any given point, with my actual age. As I left the twenties behind, I didn’t mind. Thirty? Who cares? I am still healthy and active. Forty? What’s the big deal?! I am having a great time with my family and friends! Fifty? Hey, I’m a cancer survivor, so I feel very blessed to still be around. Then, suddenly, without any warning, I hit the brick wall of fifty-five. There was an eardrum-splitting sound, similar to that of a high speed jet breaking the sound barrier, and, WHOA, I had found my age barrier, and I was totally unprepared!

In my ongoing effort to selflessly serve my fellow man, I am sharing this helpful information with you in an attempt to prepare you for this life-changing occurrence. The age barrier is not the same for everyone, so I can’t really predict when this will happen to you (although, the mid-to-late fifties is a safe bet). I have, however, compiled this invaluable list of “symptoms” (in no particular order) that you can watch for. If you start to notice any of these things happening to you, you are nearing your optimum-functioning age limit. You better strap in and get ready for an activity-altering jolt, followed by measured deceleration!

Symptom 1 – You find yourself waking up, in the middle of the night, every night, to get up and pee (even if you’ve been careful not to drink anything since noon the day before!). And, don’t even think about drinking a beer or a glass of wine before bedtime – that will go right through you!

Symptom 2 (which might be related to symptom 1) – Afternoon naps become your new hobby. I used to never be able to take an afternoon nap, and/or fall asleep in my recliner. These are two of my newly acquired skills, at which I am excelling!

Symptom 3 – In order to exit from a low-riding car, you have to roll out of the door onto the curb, and try to get to a standing position from there. (Ladies, do not wear a skirt when you anticipate dealing with this form of transport!)

Symptom 4 – One of your knees or ankles (or, any random joint) has a sudden, painful blowout that stops you in your tracks, but then returns to normal after about five minutes.

Symptom 5 – You’re switching over to all elastic waist and/or stretchy pants.

Symptom 6 – When you make your bed in the morning, it reminds you of a foothills landscape, because of all the accessory pillows you now need for comfortable sleeping (i.e., wedge, body, under-knees, etc.).

Symptom 7 – Random snot drops fall without warning from your nose, at the most inopportune times. (Watch the movie, Shadowlands, for a perfect example of this phenomenon.)

Symptom 8 – In public stairwells, other folks are always trying to figure out what that “snap, crackle, pop” sound is (coming from YOUR knees). However, you might not encounter this problem if your wheezing is loud enough to drown out the sound from your knee joints.

Symptom 9 – You finally decide that putting up with the smell and the inconvenience of coloring your hair is totally worth the small amount of satisfaction you get from at least being able to beat the gray! …Or… You don’t worry at all about the gray because you have no hair, but you do have a very impressive collection of caps!

Symptom 10 – Swallowing your pile of daily supplements helps you meet your daily intake of water.

Symptom 11 – Do I even need to address forgetfulness?! You can be sitting across the table from a close friend, having an intimate discussion with them, and suddenly you realize you cannot think of his or her name. This is a scary and embarrassing symptom which can only be addressed with daily doses of gingko biloba, Asian ginseng, fermented cod liver oil, vitamin E, a B-complex supplement, and 100 mg of phosphatidyl serine.

Symptom12 – Seeing yourself in the mirror of a public restroom, with harsh fluorescent lighting, triggers an anxiety attack.

Symptom 13 – Any little thing triggers an anxiety attack.

Symptom 14 – After several anxiety attacks and a trip to the doctor, you find yourself in a cardiac testing center waiting room with a bunch of old(er) folks, able to join in on a discussion regarding all of the above issues (with startling frankness).

This is obviously not a comprehensive list of all the possible symptoms of breaking your own, personal age barrier, but this will be a helpful start to guide you along the path to impending physical and mental breakdown. If you are able to relate to all of these age-related manifestations, you may have already passed the boundary into the land of decrepitude. If you can come up with a much longer list than this….you might want to update that life insurance policy, check into some pre-planned funeral options, and get back to church in preparation for your proximate appointment at those pearly gates, because (as a wise, old neighbor once told me), “you’re getting closer!”

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Purging the Perpetually Pullulating Piles

Twenty-seven years ago, my husband and I bought an office condominium space for his commercial photography business. We were tired of renting large spaces in old buildings, only to have those buildings purchased and slated for major renovation and upgrading (meaning, the per-square-foot rental rate suddenly going through the roof, forcing us to look elsewhere!). After yet another threat of an exponential rent increase, we searched and searched, once again, for a new, workable, affordable space. We felt really good about our find – a first floor space, with basement, in a four-story building that had been separated into four, sellable spaces. Never having to move again, unless we chose to. We signed on all the dotted lines.

We then went to work making it our own. We had purchased our first home the previous year, and here we were, cleaning, painting, fixing-up, and moving again, and this time, I was pregnant with our first child. We had some pretty good help, including my parents-in-law. They were some of the hardest working people I ever met. All you had to say was, “We need help,” and they were at the door, acting like it was the only place on earth they wanted to be right then, like….., like working was fun, or something. And, then, they’d buy lunch, too, every day, for as long as the work went on! Within a few short weeks, we had a beautiful, newly remodeled studio space that no one could kick us out of.

For the first several years, I worked at the studio a few days a week with my husband, keeping the books, sometimes assisting him with his photo shoots, while our daughter (and then, daughters) stayed with grandma and grandpa. When the third one came along, I cut back to once or twice a week, and finally switched to a 100%, stay-at-home, home schooling mom. My husband kept plugging along in our quaint little studio/office, all on his own. Life was good.

We all know, however, what eventually happens to “all good things.” They start to sour, whither, and wilt, and then, finally, they “come to an end.” Sometimes, in an over-ripe situation, you might begin to wish the end could come sooner, rather than later. That happened to us, as business started to drift off in search of younger (cheaper) photographers, the up-and-coming neighborhood starting rolling back down the hill, and we found ourselves stuck with a space we wished we could sell. Twice we put it on the market, but the market was bad. We took it off again, and waited several more years. We prayed, sometimes patiently, sometimes desperately. Then, one day earlier this year, a potential buyer called my husband, wanting to see the space, and then, miraculously enough, deciding to buy it! (This was, indeed, a miracle that I had been praying for, asking the Blessed Mother to intercede on my behalf, that the Holy Spirit would send us a buyer, even though our space was not even on the market, and hadn’t been for quite some time.)

Abruptly, the new business plan was – my husband is taking over the half-basement, and the entire garage, of our small, cape cod house. We’re talking about going from a space of 3000+ square feet to about 550 square feet. Suddenly, my husband finds himself in a position of clearing out twenty-seven years worth of self-storage in about ninety days. No, that’s not totally accurate, because when his mom and dad finally sold his childhood home and moved into something smaller, he had taken quite a bit of furniture and other items and moved them into the studio. Then, when his father died, and his mom moved into a retirement community, more items were added. And then, his mom died, and….well, you get the picture. To quote my husband, “I never really had to throw anything away, because I had access to so much storage space.” This is where the purging part of the story comes into play, along with the pullulating (which is, by the way, an awesome word, don’t you think?!) piles.

Such serious purging is a painful process, and, generally speaking, a hell of a lot of work. First, there were a few big items, that would never, ever fit anywhere in our house (which, by the way, I forgot to mention, is also being used as a storage unit for all the earthly belongings of my wandering missionary daughter and her hubby, until they find their way back to Cincinnati, and, find jobs and new housing….). So, the big, antique dentist cabinet, filled to overflowing with hard-won fossils, rocks, and minerals, that had been with my husband since he was a young boy, had to go. Job files from the very beginning of my husband’s business career needed to be sorted through, and, for the most part, taken to the mega-shredding store, along with years worth of record-keeping paperwork. Massive amounts of accumulated props, large backdrops, and framed photos needed a new home. Craigslist, Goodwill, St. Vincent de Paul Ministries, The Re-Store, used camera equipment outlets, antique stores, the local landfill – my husband navigated them all with the utmost skill and determination. By the time I found a free day to drop by the studio and lend a helping hand, he had most of the remaining items in organized piles (another trip to the landfill in this pile, over there more thrift store stuff, this pile we should ask the kids about, etc.). My big contribution was packing up all the kitchen stuff, and deciding what I wanted to bring home and what I thought should be pitched. I dug through the piles and found a few small things I wanted to keep and/or offer to our daughters. I wasn’t sure where in my house I was going to fit them, but…they’re here, somewhere.

A few days before the scheduled closing, I received an e-mail from my husband, with a couple of photos he had taken of the now-empty studio. “Was it bittersweet,” you might be wondering. Perhaps, just a little, but my gut reaction to those photos was a surge of joy. I felt it even more as we walked out of the closing a few days later. I felt free and cleansed, as though I had experienced a baptism of sorts. We had taken a difficult step, and been forced into letting go of a large number of material possessions – some we were very attached to, and some we had forgotten we even had until we found them and dusted them off. But now, they’re gone, and I have no regrets. I think what a blessing it is that we have been forced to do this now, and not leave a burden like this for our children to sort through some day down the road. But mostly, I look at my husband with renewed respect for the man that he is. He worked hard, and the pain of the purge was much more his than mine. I walk downstairs now and see the nice space he has set up for himself. I wander around his storage area in the garage and am impressed by how nicely set-up and organized it is. Yes, this purging has been a laborious effort, the fruits of which are a new, simpler way of life, which I am embracing and enjoying, as I look to the future with a lighter step and a fuller heart.