Don and I spent a week in Maine last November. I know, I know, who would go to Maine in November. But the weather was wonderfully cooperative and we had such a lovely time visiting lighthouses up and down the coast as well as hiking on three of the days. We fell in love. We stayed in a cottage close to the coast about half way between Portland and Acadia which was a perfect location for exploration. But at the end of the week though we’d loved our wandering about, we did have a favorite place. We wanted more and more of Acadia- the beauty, the crashing waves, the quiet ponds, the high peaks and the challenging hiking. I have to admit there were some of the rocky places in the hiking that week where I was only able to get up and down because Don was able to provide sturdy support. Don and I returned to Ohio and began planning our next trip- this time to Bass Harbor- just south of Acadia National Park – near Acadia, but quieter than Bar Harbor to the north. I began a more vigorous exercise program so I would be more “independent” on our hikes. I bought a ton (only a very slight exaggeration) of hiking books for the park.
And then two weeks before we were scheduled to leave I somehow hurt my knee in a yoga class- big time hurt my knee- the “I’m not sure if I can walk to the car the pain is so excruciating” sort of knee injury. Well I did all the things you do when you are hobbling around in intense pain trying to navigate the stairs in the house. I went to the orthopedic surgeon who xrayed and pronounced my knee “end stage” osteoarthritis, told me to call when the pain was so severe that I was unable to sleep and unable to walk with a cane because of the pain, and gave me a script for physical therapy. Not exactly prime physical condition for hiking. I began the exercises.
Our first response to this new reality was “well of course we can’t go to Maine” and since everything was already paid for, we called Matthew (our son) and his wife Sarah to see if they might be able to use the cottage we’d rented so it wouldn’t just be wasted. They were hopeful but not quite sure because of work responsibilities. And I continued to do my exercises… And grieved the loss of my dream of Maine. And I continued to do my exercises… And then I hesitantly suggested to Don that perhaps we might go anyway. Well, he looked at me like I was out of my ever loving mind! At this point I was walking further distances- but not much further and I still was having considerable pain. But I continued my exercises.
And then just a few days before we’d planned to leave for Maine, I had a very BIG MELTDOWN. And I do mean BIG! I stood in our kitchen while we were preparing dinner and just began crying. Of course the loss of the Maine trip was a big part of my meltdown, but it was bigger than that. It was about how Don and I were going to approach all the limitations that are quite frankly inevitable as we age. The body wears out. And it wears out differently for each of us and at a never predictable pace, but wear out it does. And I wasn’t ready to sit at home and dream of Maine while I did my exercises and visited my physical therapist. Even as people might babble on about how “the 60s are the new 40s”, it’s just not the truth. Our body knows better. But just because things aren’t quite what we’d imagined and certainly different than how they were in the past, doesn’t mean we must settle in and coast in a cocoon of limited living.
We went to Maine. And an unexpected pleasure to our trip, that we hadn’t considered in the early plans, Matthew and Sarah joined us for the whole week.
Don was able to do all the hiking he’d imagined. In fact, he was able to hike paths that even at my best would have been impossible for me. He loved it! Matthew and Sarah are much stronger hiking partners than I had been on my best day. And of course we loved their company!
And of course there was the fantastic lobster that doesn’t require a healthy knee to enjoy…
And I found my own way each day. Don, Matthew and Sarah would leave each day after breakfast for their hike and I would do my exercises! But it wasn’t all about exercises. A lovely park ranger told me about a beautiful, quiet place by a stream that was a very short walk from the parking lot that she thought I’d like. So I carried a chair and a book and a bottle of water and found a place to enjoy the beauty for the afternoon.
And then after my afternoon I would meet back up with Don and Matthew and Sarah and we’d enjoy the end of the day together. Life, as usual, isn’t quite what we’d planned. But there was so much beauty in each of my days. I am grateful. I’m not sure about “what next” in this “growing old” experience, but I do know that somehow we have to find the possible in our dreams, even when they’re not what we “imagined”. The real is very different, but it still can be so very beautiful.