Body Breakdowns

By Jim Selman | Bio

You hear about it and know it is true—the body breaks down as we grow older. Naturally there are lots of exceptions. If you take really good care of yourself, you might make it to the end of the game without any major physical impairment. However, for most of us we’re going to encounter some life-limiting change in our bodies. I encountered my first this week.

I showed up for a meeting with an orthopedic surgeon to have what I expected to be routine work done on a torn tendon in my shoulder, only to learn that it was inoperable and that I would need to accept the fact that, for the rest of my life, I will have limited functionality. That means I’ll probably not play golf or anything else that requires mobility or power in the left arm. The good news is that my right arm can still be repaired.

What was interesting to me was to watch my reaction to this news. I hate the thought of not being as capable in the future as I have been in the past. I have intentionally rejected the notion that age-related changes, including changes in our bodies, need adversely affect the quality of our lives. I still believe that, but now I get to actually confront that the rest of my life will be limited to some degree by my deteriorating and arthritic shoulder.

My first reaction was a kind of denial. Not a denial of the loss of the rotator cuff and the associated functionality, but denial that there was nothing I could do. In my mind, I instantly went to undertaking arduous physiotherapy, bodybuilding exercises and mental mastery of whatever pain I might experience. My second response was to rationalize the condition as minor, since it would not affect my work or many of my hobbies—golf seemed to be a minor sacrifice in the larger scheme of things. Finally, I am now coming to grips with the fact of my own limitations and the fact that my future will not (and never was) an extension of the past or the idyllic recreational paradise I imagined.

The good news in all of this is that I went through these spaces in less than two days and ended up realizing that, like everyone else, I am experiencing the ups and downs of growing older. Previously, I was very conscious of many of the psychological, intellectual and emotional elements of aging, but the physical was more of an abstraction until now. Now I am facing the physical aspect. I will have a lot of time to continue in this inquiry as I recover from the surgery in my right arm over the next few weeks. There is a lot more to learn and share about all this.

I am sure that what I am encountering is no different and significantly less severe than what millions of others have had to deal with at all ages—handicaps, accident-caused incapacitations, incarcerations, mental illnesses, and on and on. But when it happens to you and comes as a surprise, it’s an opportunity to stop and check-in with your own perspectives and priorities.

My breakdown is minor, but it reminds me how grateful I am for my life and the possibilities in the future. If I have to learn new habits or adjust to the inconvenience of physical changes in coming years, then that is not really much different than what I had to do when I was a child learning to cope with a world I had never experienced and didn’t understand. The difficulties I experienced were the stepping-stones to having a life worth living and one that I continue to enjoy and savor with every breath. The principal difference is that, with the perspective of age, I can appreciate the process while it is happening and hopefully have the wisdom to share it with others in a manner that enables them to deal more confidently with adversity in their own lives.

© 2008 Jim Selman. All rights reserved.