Municipal Callousness
The Excruciating Torment of Customer Abuse

Accommodating the Limitations of Age

category_bug_journal2.gif Before moving to New York City in 1969, I had lived in seven cities and moved several times within some of those towns. As a result, I am an expert at packing. There were damaged items only when the moving company packed on two or three occasions so once again, I am packing.

Twenty-three years ago, when I bought this apartment, I spread the chore over five or six weeks, filling up two or three boxes each evening after work, a few more on weekends, and by moving day it was done. No big deal.

Not so this time. I hadn’t counted on the physical differences 23 years bring. It’s harder now to hoist a box of books across the room or onto a stack of other boxes. I don’t remember them being so heavy in past moves, and today, after hauling several of them around, there’s an ache in my lower back I’ve never felt before.

Getting on and off the stool dozens of times to reach stuff stored on high shelves unexpectedly tires me too. I don’t recall that in the past. Packing is basically boring so I’d like to get through each session as quickly as possible but this time, I need rest periods that weren’t necessary when I was 42.

When we are children, there are things we cannot do because we are too small, too short or not strong enough yet. By our teen years, we are fully capable physically and that doesn’t change much for a long time, decades, so we have no practice at accommodating diminishing capability.

Also, in a youth-obsessed culture, there is an unspoken pressure to hide - or not admit - any physical decline for as long as possible even, perhaps, to ourselves. To reveal that you can’t lift the box is tantamount to admitting you are less capable in general which, of course, is not so but might be seen that way by others. Society accommodates children’s lesser abilities without question and we should be as understanding at the other end of life.

Last evening, a friend who is in her early 30s, having returned from a quick trip to London, came to dinner with the excellent cheeses she obtained there. Hearing my lament about tiring more easily now, she offered to spend a day helping me pack. It was my almost unconscious reaction to decline with a polite thank you, but this morning, I've decided to accept her kind offer.

Elders can help the culture - and oursevles - accept as normal the differences that come with aging by graciously allowing others to help when they offer, by asking for help when we need it and by learning to work within our new limitations. It’s been three or four years since I gave up doing all the housecleaning on Saturdays and I now spread it over the entire week, one room or chore per day. I just forgot to apply the same strategy to packing for this move by planning for extra time.

I also forgot, in not asking friends to help, that we all feel good about ourselves when we share our expertise. I recently spent an hour or two on the telephone helping a neophyte blogger get started and felt an excellent sense of well-being afterward. Pitching in with our individual knowledge or just hauling boxes around for someone who can't do it as easily anymore nourishes our sense of personal kindheartedness and reaffirms our humanity.

There is one upside to the rest periods I need now which didn’t exist 23 years ago: this time, I can check email, write a blog post or read the news online until I’m ready to tackle the next box. I need to be careful, though. The internet is seductive and if I get distracted for too long, the packing will never get done.

[EDITORIAL NOTE: On yesterday's post about municipal callousness, joared - who is not a blogger herself but who comments prolifically around the blogosphere - left a story about the everyday need for more sensitivity toward others in situations that are commonplace but less dramatic than ticketing an elder for walking too slowly. It has a nice synergy with this post.]


I always enjoy watching the mini-drama when a young person on a Tel Aviv bus offers his or her seat to an older person. Most graciously accept, but occasionally someone insists on standing. When that happens, other people on the bus invariably start arguing with the standee that he/she is discouraging respect for elders in general. Both the young and the old on that bus learn from this.

After years of being independent and able to either do projects myself or hire them done, I have recently allowed myself to be helped on occasion. The kind people who helped me seemed to enjoy the same glow(and my abundant thanks)that I did when I was the strong one. Maybe what goes around really does come around.

Today's post resonates with me, more than usual. As an Earth Day project, our neighborhood council organized a cleanup of our green areas and around the lakes. I joined in enthusiastically, but was disappointed in how quickly I wore out. I would guess I was the oldest of the volunteers, and while I think I did a good job, filling a large trash bag with litter and debris, I also feel that by bailing out before the others did, I was confirming somebody's stereotypes.

You are right, the internet is seductive and can pull you away from what you should be doing. That's what happened to me when I was trying to pack up before leaving Florida.

What worked for me was: pack, rest, pack, rest and take two tylenol before the back starts to hurt.

Good luck!

Keep on packing day by day but :

Do NOT try to lift any more heavy boxes. You have enough to take care while moving. You sure do not want to be down with your back.I have been there some years ago (from lifting a box) and it takes too long to recover.

You need all your strength for the days ahead.

I agree with Chancy, don't overdo it. As we are getting older, getting tired more easily is something we have to put up with. As you often do, you are making me think of things I'll blog about later on. Your are such a great topic discoverer, Ronni!

Oh, how I have noticed this, too, and agree with everything you wrote in this post. Much more rest between spurts of work for me as well. I do accomplish some interesting things during those breaks but sometimes nap. I'll add to the list and caution you to take care of yourself.

"Elders can help the culture - and ourselves - accept as normal the differences that come with aging by graciously allowing others to help when they offer, by asking for help when we need it and by learning to work within our new limitations."

The words above resonate with me, especially the "graciously allowing others to help when they offer." I felt so moved by that with memories that came flooding forth of my mother, that I had to leave the blog to return at this later time to comment.

One of the kindest things my mother ever did for me over the years was to make it easier for me to give her the loving care she wanted and needed by graciously accepting my help, by asking for it at times and letting me know in so many ways how very much she appreciated it.

I have often thought, and wondered if I will be able to do the same, as I so much want to be able to do.

Thanks, Ronni, for your reference to my comment on the previous blog which you summed up so succinctly "...need for more sensitivity toward others in situations that are commonplace..."

I've always been impatient. When the kids were little that was me nagging, "Hurry up, can you hurry up." I hate waiting, I want to be on time, and I want the whole world to do the same. I hate check-out line-ups and dawdlers drive me nuts. But last week I leaned on a check-out counter and drifted off into some distracting thoughts without even realizing it. The clerk had to nudge me to clear my purchase before it cancelled a second time. Then I entered the wrong account number. Yet who is more disgusted than I when someone fumbles around like I had just done? The next day I discovered that it took me two days to sew a pair of slacks that I used to zip up in 3 hours. It's tough when you're as impatient as I am and you can't lay blame by yelling at the top of your lungs, "Will you please hurry up!!" (Guess I could yell but I'd look mighty foolish yelling at myself that way.) So I've had to resign myself to being in that class of dawdlers that I vowed all my life to never be a part of.

I have had to learn the hard way both to pace myself and to ask for help when necessary. Stubborness put me in the accident unit (ER) on an almost regular basis until I finally admitted to myself that my back problem means that I just cannot do all the things I once did.

Returning to education has been a revelation in regard to asking for help. The majority of students on my course are between 18 and 20. They are all a joy to know. There is always someone willing to help me when I need it. On more than one occasion someone has put off doing their own work so that they could assist me with something that was beyond my physical capability. When I slow them down on trips or even getting up the stairs to the studio, they never leave me behind or make me feel as though my snail pace matters. It's taken awhile, but now I can say that little four letter word 'help'.

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