Words of occasional wisdom from Bruce Oakley

With a deck of 51

Posted by boakley59 on September 18, 2010

(Nov. 30, 2010 Note: I set this aside in draft mode months ago pondering some refinement that I have since forgotten. With unremembered flaws intact then:)

This spinning rock has carried me around the big yellow ball one more time and as usual I like to take a look back at the track and see where I’ve been, hoping for some insight into where I might be headed.

For starters, I revisited How are ya, 5-0? to see how I felt as the previous circuit came to an end and Turn 51 began. I am disappointed to say I don’t think the big picture has changed much. Maybe that’s the nature of the big picture: It’s too big to change unless comes the revolution. Mainly I am disappointed because Turn 51 has pretty much been the year that was — a great year with family and friends — and yet the big picture is so little altered.

I mean, here I’ve been awfully healthy in comparison to the last few years, with only one medical event of any kind, the upshot of which was about eight hours spent in hospital rooms over three separate days. Most of that time was spent with limited intervention (no long-term IV, no repeated rounds of blood tests and drug infusions), mostly just waiting for procedures that took a few minutes. And friends laugh when I talk of myself as the “biggest Bruce ever,” but I am now carrying 110% of what had been my normal adult weight for 33 years. Still, it seems all it took to knock me sideways was a day of heavy fluid intake and laxatives to clear the innards for a colonoscopy. A preventive checkup procedure apparently contributed to forming a kidney stone.

It’s tiring to be a cup half-empty kind of guy, but how healthy can I be if checking to see how healthy I am makes me sick?

I see, too, that at the start of Turn 51 I was talking about feeling ready to start jogging again. As a matter of fact, until last weekend, I never did get going. Half-full: It is encouraging to be mobile again and perhaps to have more muscle mass than ever; half-empty: discouraging to be slow and unfit, having to rebuild lung capacity, and it’s tougher to carry 110% of Bruce (next time you go for a walk, carry a 10- or 20-pound weight, depending on whether you’re closer to 100 pounds or 200, and you’ll see what I mean). Half-emptier still (or “your cup has a leak,” so to speak): Some of my medicines meant to ease flow to prevent kidney trouble apparently have bladder-control consequences when I am jogging. Feeling all empty: We worry, too, looking at any half-glass darkly, because I will be sadly lumpish if I am unable to jog without self-damage, but if I am able to regain some measure of fitness and athletic enjoyment, at what level will that threaten my disability standing? When does being able to withstand so many minutes of physical stress mean the bureaucracy holds that I should be able to withstand the daily stress of the workplace?

For what it’s worth, any of you bureaucrats looking in, I’ve jogged 15 minutes a day four times in the last week and I’ve been otherwise worn out and sleeping extra long each day since. So, after 15 minutes of mild exercise I am feeling what I used to feel only after a full 15-hour day with eight hours of work, two hours of strenuous exercise and a night out with friends. Feels disabling to me.

I tell Suzy that if a bit of jogging costs us my disability standing, then I’ll just accept the finding that I’m not disabled, get a job and work until I either drop (if I remain disabled despite labels) or retire (if indeed I have returned to strength). Of course, finding a job will be a pile of stress all its own, a pile Suzy does not want me digging into.

In the big picture then, I am still living mainly to avoid dying, certainly to avoid struggling. This is backwards, however, for human beings should be dying to live well (as in “I am dying to try that new chocolate bar”) or at least struggling to live better (as in “the struggle for existence”). It’s the half-full thing writ in a different dialect: Moving toward something instead of shying away from something. Life should be about doing, not ducking. You can argue that if a brick is coming at your head, ducking is the thing to do, and I’ll accept that. But ducking raindrops when you’re already wet only gives you a pain in the neck. That’s when you just have to have fun splashing in puddles.

I made a few splashes this year, including volunteer work with the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation (thank you again, friends and donors) on a grandly successful fundraising walk in Little Rock in May. (Next walks, Oct. 16 in NW Arkansas; May 14, 2011, back in LR). I did a lot of good things, slowly without stress, over several months of preparation for the walk, putting design, editing and computer skills to good use, feeding a much-needed sense of accomplishment and advancing a worthy cause.

I also made a splash or two in a couple of pools of memory, back to the glory days of university life, when we knew most everything and could do most anything and had fun proving it, and to the playful days of rare travels with lovable cousins. Always bittersweet to realize that “the year that was” gets part of its shine from realizing that today’s Bruce may be 110% the body of yesteryear’s Bruce, but like the proverbial iceberg, so much of what matters is unseen — and yesteryear’s Bruce had not yet melted into the background.

What I’m saying is that at 51, I’m not playing with a full deck anymore. I don’t like it. I haven’t liked it for years, as you can tell from previous posts. As I can tell from the number of times I’ve stopped posting and complained about always seeming to be complaining. I am a terrible patient because I am impatient. I am a terrible lump because I would rather be a jittering mass, aquiver with restless energy and ready to flow wherever. I’ve had a year that for the first time in a while felt more like those bygone jittery days, but it is hard to celebrate when the core triumph is excellent recall of what I did so easily when I was not sick.

I judge myself harshly. If once I could jump nine feet high, I am not content even in the face of accident or the ravages of time to now see bounding up the few steps of the front porch as achievement. All things considered, I have a hard time considering all things. I don’t like admitting limitations.

I suppose none of us do. I would tell anyone else wrestling with such thoughts that it’s a matter of perspective. I would say look at the good and long work in helping others fight your own disease, look at the overwhelming strength and simplicity of reconnection with long-separated friends, look at the enduring love of reunited family and the opportunity of starting a new home in an old, familiar, heart-warming place.

Even if you’re not playing with a full deck, that’s a pretty good hand. My job for the coming year is to stop thinking about the flawed deck, and particularly the idea that the missing ace is me.


2 Responses to “With a deck of 51”

  1. Good phrase, “looking at any half-glass darkly.” Apparently I missed this post back in September. What I want to say though, is you’re an organized man. That means somewhere you’ve kept the box the cards came in. That means inside the box are the jokers, that folks invariably tuck there after snapping off the cellophane. You need to get the jokers out. They’re wild. Or wild enough.

    Bruce sez: You didn’t miss this in Sept. I left it sitting in draft for a couple of months, but set the publication date to original writing date when I posted a couple of days ago.

    As you say, I do have the original box. I’ve been shuffling for a while, and it’s time for the new deal.

  2. […] for the ritual stock-taking after another tour ’round the sun. A year ago, I was wrapping up a grand stretch of good health, happy reunions and magic moments on Memory Lane. […]

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