Keep Walking, Look Straight Ahead

The observation that is sometimes advice and sometimes a bumper sticker for the deluded that ‘you are who you pretend to be’ struck me today as I was walking my dogs pretending to be the same person I’ve always been.

I walk in my jeans and a long fleece jacket that I bought at Goodwill a dozen years ago and think of throwing out every year. It has deep pockets though, good for dog bags and keys, and it zips to the neck. It’s perfect for fall so why would I throw it out? Besides, it’s what I wore five years ago, ten years ago. It’s the same. I’m the same.

I never feel old unless I have to talk to someone or, worse, listen to someone talk to me. That’s when my increasingly ridiculous and awful hearing impairment kicks in, making communication an exercise in shouting and pantomime. I suggested to someone today that they try interpretive dance. They waved their arms like they thought I was joking.

Anyway, I walk along as if I’m 57 or 47 or 37 instead of 67. The air is clean, the trees are beautiful, people have mums and pumpkins on their porches and I could be anyone of any age. I am just a person in the world, ageless, timeless.

And then across the street I see someone I know, a friend of a friend, someone I’ve had dinner with a few times many years ago and heard about regularly from the friend we share. He is walking with his hands behind his back. He is white-haired, slight, pensive, and bent over at the waist. He keeps a steady pace, holds a conversation with his upright companion, but he must arch his neck to look ahead.

I don’t call out to him. I keep walking with my dogs. But I look back a couple of times, wanting to confirm that the person I saw was the person I knew. And he was. Nothing about how he was walking seemed temporary. This was him now.

Rounding the corner, I wonder how long I can fool myself. How long can the bubble of my self-perception protect me from the reality that ahead of me is 77 and 87 and, maybe, possibly 97.

Does the bubble just burst one day? With no warning? And then suddenly I won’t be myself. Not ageless, timeless. There will be no more being what I pretend to be. I will just have to be what I am. The lovely pretending will be over.

I wonder. Maybe it lasts forever. Maybe my friend of a friend across the street was still being who he pretended to be and happy doing it and I just couldn’t tell.

It’s not for me to know, I guess. I should just keep walking and looking straight ahead.

9 Comments on “Keep Walking, Look Straight Ahead

  1. This is powerful stuff and so true. I recently returned to church to see that a once proud and intimidating man, a former schoolteacher, is now bent nearly double and comes with his nurse. I pray for continued good health at 60 — my father, at 88, is still doing well.

  2. If serious illness doesn’t get you, you’ll just meld into old age and it’s physical limitations. You’ll think you’re the same. You will be the same, just slower.

    If illness interrupts your old age, yes, the bubble justs burst one day, no warning. And you’ll be what you are. And if you’re lucky and smart, you’ll appreciate that, too.

    Be here now.

  3. My sister also has a hearing problem. It’s hard because she does get left out of conversation, interrupt others, loses the stream of thought, etc. It’s not easy . . .

  4. This is what people mean when they tell us age is just a number. I always think, yes, but it’s becoming an increasingly larger number.

  5. Just keep walking, Sweetheart. I believe we can keep our delusion as long as it works – and if it stops working that is when we don’t want it around any more. Maybe we can replace it with a better one!

  6. Funny. I was thinking about something like this today, walking my dog. Across the street, a youngish robust woman pushing a stroller, and next to her another woman, bent, but with long and healthy blonde hair. At first I thought she had really thick ankles: but no, it’s already Uggs season here. Three generations, I expect. As I got closer I noticed the older woman wasn’t that old; she was about our age, but with some problem with her joints, her back, her bones and muscles. I stood up straighter and wondered when it would be me. Now I’m pretty good, but I have this hinky hip thing and sometimes I have to bend over at the waist and wiggle my hips until the ball sets right in the socket. Last time I did that in public, the painters I was passing started flirting with me, so there’s that. . .

  7. I keep writing things and then erasing them, realizing that I don’t know if I really believe what I just wrote or not. I guess in the end none of us knows the answer to the question you pose. I can’t imagine a personality as strong as yours becoming something different–unless it is via memory loss…and even then, who knows? Perhaps we just go inward and are so captivated by what we find there that we don’t want to come out again.

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