The Universal Notebook: Gravity is getting me down

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Back in my 40s, which was a young lifetime ago now, I began noticing my physical limitations primarily through sports. Playing outfield for the church softball team, it became more and more of an adventure to track down what were once routine fly balls.

Now routine activities such as walking have become a gauge of how I am aging.

When I played with the Temptations in the over-35 league, I first noticed that fly balls were not always where I thought they were. Then I noticed that I wasn’t getting to balls that should have been caught. The last game I played, I hit a clean single through the infield and got thrown out at first by the center fielder.

“Why didn’t you run?” a teammate asked when I returned to the bench.

“But I was running,” I objected.

Once upon a time I was light and fast, fast enough anyway to win a few low-hurdle races as a freshman, fast enough to cover most of the outfield as a Little Leaguer. Now I’m ponderous and slow. When I jog across the street to fetch the mail, I am reminded how stiff and plodding I have become and my left knee reminds me that my meniscus is torn in two.

One of the final landmarks in the decline and fall of my decidedly lackluster athletic career was the Sunday afternoon perhaps 20 years ago when I fell playing basketball and stove up my right shoulder. I had just sunk a jumper (though I’m pretty sure I didn’t leave the floor on that “jumper,” just raised up on my toes) and had turned to run back on defense. Somehow, around half court I got my feet tangled (I blamed new sneakers at the time) and stumbled headfirst.

Everything went into slow motion as I fell, the action slowing enough for me to decide that it would be best to tuck and roll rather than go splat on my face. The tuck happened, but the roll didn’t. I just went crunch on my shoulder. My acromion bone (at least that’s what I think it is) has protruded visibly under the skin ever since. My daughters nicknamed the bump “Humpy.” I haven’t been able to throw a baseball or a snowball with much ease or velocity since Humpy appeared.

About the time my playing days ended, I started measuring my physical decline in terms of loss of confidence. We’d come to a 4-foot fence around an athletic field, for instance, and other members of the family would vault over it. I’d stop to think about it, decide discretion was the better part of not injuring myself, and walk around it. Or I’ll start to get down on the ground to roll around with the grandkids and then have second thoughts, realizing somersaults make me dizzy.

I may have written about these infirmities before, but my memory, too, has suffered in recent years, so I’ll beg your indulgence if I’ve previously shared this report on the human condition. The thing I was not really prepared for, the latest development in my decline, is how easy it is to fall down these days.

At Christmas I tripped over the leg of highchair and crashed into the dining room wall, scaring the bejeebers out of the little ones. And twice this winter I have fallen on the ice. What amazes and alarms me is the suddenness with which these falls occur. As I mentioned, when I fell playing basketball I had time to consider options, possibly even to catch myself. Now, it’s instantaneous. Slip-fall-bam in one fell swoop. One second I’m walking the dog, the next I’m on my back inventorying my aches and pains. It seems balance deserts you right along with coordination. Then again, a body at rest tends to stay at rest.

Despite my deterioration, however, I’m more of a man now than I ever was. I weigh 50 pounds more than I did when I got married, 60 pounds more than I did in high school. So the added weight probably has something to do with why putting socks on in the morning requires more effort than it should. It’s also why falling and falling apart are a matter of some gravity to me these days.

Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Brunswick. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.

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  • jack bauer

    A column by Beem without vitriol. Amazing.