When you're young and really old people, like your parents, tell you "It's the simple things in life that bring you the most joy," you are positive they're full of something you'd get your mouth washed out for saying. Because everything is complicated when you're a kid. Even tying your shoes.
Then one day you begin to suspect that the simple thing they're talking about is you, and it makes you a little resentful even though you're too young to spell the word, but still, you swear that you'll never think that simple things are joyful. Ever. Thus you will never utter that saying. Ever.
That promise to yourself seems like a no-brainer to the young you who struggles with life's complexities through the years: long-division, hormones and whether to spend your Pell grant money on textbooks or the next round of beer.
Then one day you're middle-aged, with a trick back that's up to its old tricks — along with a few new ones — and you become a betrayer of your youthful convictions. (A trick back will do that to you if you don't keep a close eye on it. And middle age can't be trusted either.)
Here in the throes of spinal articulation failure, I find that a few everyday functions cause pain, namely: sitting, standing, walking and laying down. As I while away my time whining, I find myself mentally composing long letters of appeal to billionaire space nut Richard Branson asking him to send me into the weightlessness of space where no pressure will be applied to my spine and scootching myself into any position is as effortless as a flick of my finger — because the possibility of him saying yes seems so much more plausible than, say, me deciding to don a bathing suit to float around in a public pool or jacuzzi.
Perhaps the most disconcerting element of my current condition is an almost complete inability to bend at the waist. Don't get me wrong, I can sit, kind of — my hips flex — but there are a surprising number of everyday activities that also require at least some degree of forward bend. Eating without dribbling down the front of your shirt. Putting the key in your car's ignition. Sneezing. Getting back out of a chair.
Putting your socks and underwear on. That's a big one.
My husband had to help me dress in those basic staples of clothing for a week.
How can I even think of myself as a capable, independent person while sitting on the edge of the bed grasping my stupid unders by the barest edge of their elastic waste and dangling them toward my toes, which are desperately waggling in an attempt to defy physiology by stretching the three inches of dead air between their tippy tips at the nearest leg opening.
Forget about the socks which require two hands — all the way down there at my foot — to stretch the fabric over my toes. Stupid back. Gads! The humiliation.
I tried whipping the underwear toward my feet in hopes that the elastic would stretch enough to snap down around my toes. I also tried grunting like my grandpa rising from his easy chair and breathing in my best Lamaze imitation. Nothing helped. I would never be able to dress myself again. Ever.
Then one day earlier this week I did. The days of recovery, the half-hour of morning warm-up exercises, the Olympian effort of will and the careful straining paid off. Just like a big girl, I dressed myself, all the way down to my toes. Without grunting or breathing hard.
As I sat there in my girly whities and my warm socks, I sighed with satisfaction and said, "It's the simple things —"
And then wept at the death of my youthful convictions.
(We are holding a wake at http://viewnorth40.wordpress.com.)