There’s No Path Back

Have I ever told you about my obsession with This American Life? Its a podcast on NPR, and somehow I discovered it. It is the perfect program to listen to while I am working in the studio. The stories are sometimes funny, sometimes sad, sometimes informative, sometimes poignant, and always detailed. I listen to the archived podcasts in reverse chronological order, and I have worked my way back to 1999!! That’s a lot of podcasts, and I will be very sad when I get to the end of them.

One day I was listening to a story about aging. And they were interviewing a brilliant man, a man with a graduate degree in physics. He had spent a good part of his life studying space, time, and numbers. And now he had Alzheimer’s.

They told about his appointments with his Alzheimer’s doctor. At the start of each appointment they had the patients do various tests to check their cognitive level, and to see if the Alzheimer’s had progressed. One of the tests that many patients dreaded was the “draw a clock” test. And then the day came when he could no longer draw the clock.

It bothered him so much. He went home and spent hours and hours trying to figure out why he couldn’t draw a clock. The answer he came up with was something I couldn’t even understand–something about it involving three planes of thought at the same time.

And the interviewer asked, “why was this so important to you, to figure out why you couldn’t draw the clock?” And this brilliant man replied, “Because there’s no path back. I have to figure out the best way to move forward.”

I don’t know if that hits you all the same way it hit me. Because it applies to all of us, doesn’t it? There is no path back from the ravages of aging. Its up to us to figure out the best way to move forward.

I often think about how I started my weight loss journey. I walked a LOT. And now I don’t like walking. I avoid walking. I do not park as far away from the store as possible to get a few extra steps in–I circle the parking lot looking for the closest space, and look enviously at the handicapped spots.

I told you I was extra stiff after this last trip. That has lasted a lot longer than I think it should have. There have been other aches and pains that were not exactly associated with my bad knee. I fear that this is just the way its gonna be–every day one more ache and pain. Do I have really bad arthritis? Is it something worse–maybe a blood clot or bone cancer (gotta laugh at myself 🙂 )

Whatever it is, there is the realization that there is no path back. I will never have the knees I had 10 years ago. Heck, I will not have the body I had 10 years ago. Its up to me to figure out the best path forward. Right now that means being extra conscious of getting in all the helpful exercise I can–my PT exercises, the bike and the pool at the gym, and some short walks with the doggies. It really makes me feel better to do these exercises.

For all of us, this man with Alzheimer’s has given us a brilliant piece of advice–There’s no path back. We shouldn’t waste a minute longing for past times, past health, or especially past beauty. Its up to each of us to figure out the best way to move forward with grace and dignity.

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17 thoughts on “There’s No Path Back

  1. I ALSO AM OBSESSED WITH THIS AMERICAN LIFE!!! Seriously, some days it’s the only way I can get motivated enough to get my work done – I pop in my earbuds and typetypetype while I listen.
    I remember that podcast. And you’re right, there is no path back. I seem to think that things will just stay the same, but in reality, we are always changing and aging and that phrase is a good reminder to not sit around and wait for whatever it is we want.

  2. Well said, very well said. I look at one of my running buddies, still in her early 30s with the body of the dancer she once was, and I watch her run more miles so she can eat, and I think about how glad I am that I don’t have to work so hard to maintain such a good body – because I have what I have, which is an imperfect body that is aging whether I want it to or not (what is this new ache??!). And I’m glad to have it. I just hope that if and when my mind goes, I won’t be aware of it happening…I think that’s the worst part of Alzheimer’s – that you know before you totally go.

    • Oh you and me are alike. There doesn’t seem to be a history of Alzheimer’s in our family. And the longer time goes on, the more grateful I am that my dad had all of his faculties up until the day he died. That would have been not only hard on us kids, but also very hard for him.

  3. I love TAL. Do you ever listen to Wait, Wait Don’t Tell me? One of our favorite NPR shows as well.

    I’m noticing all those aging things. More gray hairs. I need reading glasses now. It takes me longer to recover after a day of heavy renovation work. It’s kind of scary to think that you can’t stop the inevitable march of time.

    • Yes, I’ve heard WWDTM. It comes on at a time I’m not usually in the car, so I don’t hear it that often.

      Yes, when I started thinking about this, and feeling that regret/guilt that I’ve regained some of the weight, all of a sudden I realized, oh! I’m 12 years older. That is probably having more of an affect on me than the 25 pounds.

  4. This is such an important perspective to keep in mind.
    Thank you . You couldn’t have posted it at a better time.

  5. I listened to that podcast this week on one of my walks. I listened intently, of course, because Mr. Helen’s mother has severe dementia. You are correct in assuming it’s a terrible thing for the family.

    I feel my aging in my running. Though I am running well at the moment, I still battle thoughts of not being as fast as I was. I think like running, the aging process is quite mental. Take that however you want!

    • I’m so sorry about your mother in law.

      There’s a definite mental component to aging. That’s what I’m trying to figure out and do “right.” Its not all mental, though. I’m pretty sure those aches and pains are real!

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