In January, I schedule “maintenance” appointments. Eyes. Skin. Bone density. Blood work. Like that. With each doctor, the conversations usually go like this:
Q: Are my glasses OK? I don’t see distances well.
A: Your eyes have degenerative changes, consistent with your age. May not get better, might get worse.
Q: Why is my cholesterol high?
A: As French Canadians age, hypercholesterolemia happens.
Q: Are these age spots on my hand?
A: Oh, wisdom spots?
Q: My knees creak when I walk downhill. What’s going on?
A: You have degenerative osteoarthritis, consistent with your age. Probably won’t get better. Might get worse. I sense crepitus, too.
A: Snap, crackle, pop of joints. Consistent with degenerative disease and your age.
Do I hear a fierce echo? Could a thesaurus give words besides degenerative (which no doubt roots from degenerate)? And crepitus sounds too much like decrepit. Then this: my 6-year-old granddaughter Lawson points to my face and asks, “what are these cracks around your eyes?”
I like “cracks” over “degenerative.” Maybe we crack some as we age. Maybe those fine lines (life-lines) around my lips and eyes grow from cracking millions of smiles over the years. That’s not degenerative. It’s generative; of love, laughter, joy, of living fully human.
Maybe our hearts crack open over and over, as when I sat in my daughter’s hospital room minutes after her daughter arrived on Earth. I cracked smiles and tears, opening to her new life as I cradled newborn Lawson.
I also cracked open when I stepped into the funeral home’s private family room to “view the embalmed body,” the final time I’d see my Dad. He lay on a cold table, reddish-brown age spots on the back of his hands, his trumpet-playing fingers stiff. No more golf-club grip, his now spindly thumbs folded over his chest. I looked at his clean-shaven, bald, freckled head and the sweet smile pasted on his frozen face. Melting, sobbing, my heart gaped as it stared at death. That’s a lot of cracking open.
Bone-on-bone joints, lost keys, forgetting names, shrinking height, memory blips, eyes that squint to see, earlier bed times, naps, fall prevention tactics, friends and relatives with new diagnoses, all show up crackly. And now I read books like: “Aging with Wisdom,” “The Measure of My Days,” “As We are Now” and “The Grace in Aging.” Susan Moon says in “This is Getting Old:” “My mind, like my bladder, is shrinking with age, so that it doesn’t hold as much at once.”
Yet, if we don’t judge sagging skin and what my 3-year-old granddaughter Brooke calls the energy of “boring old,” there’s no issue. I’ve learned this about the mind: No judgment, no problem. I know people my age and older who say they’ve earned their wrinkles, who honor their life-lines. Yet I hark back to cracks and cracking. I like focusing on the wisdom in aging, the grace of it. I like the message of hope in what others call degeneration, or at least the neutral “no judging, no problem.”
Remember the lyrics from Leonard Cohen’s “Anthem.” Even for those of us for whom our past out-lengthens our future, how about Cohen’s words for a 2019 resolution? How about being open and present to the cracks?
“Ring the bells that still can ring
“Forget your perfect offering
“There is a crack, a crack in everything
“That’s how the light gets in.”