I’m Major Jackson and this is The Slowdown.
Shortly after my forty-fifth birthday, I booked an appointment for an annual physical. Dr. Green performed the full battery of expected tests: blood pressure, lung exam, cold stethoscope on my back, a check of my tonsils. You know; Say ah! A month later, I returned with the request that we do another round of blood tests and assessments. He obliged but with raised eyebrows, made a joke that I must like wearing hospital gowns. The results? All clear. Several months later, I was back in Dr. Green’s office, who realized what was going on.
He grabbed both of my hands in his, looked me in the eyes, and said, “Major, you are in great health.” After checking my family medical history, he noticed that my mother died of cancer several weeks before her forty-fifth birthday. So, it wasn’t surprising. I was experiencing the distinct anxiety of having outlived her. Suddenly, my mortality was within sight. I had lived until then having not considered death as a part of my future. How foolish. The remainder of our visit consisted of specific instructions to take daily walks, to maintain a healthy diet, and to sleep. When he was done, he said, “I’ll see you next year.”
Had my mother lived another year or two she would have likely survived much longer. The medical community has improved greatly its ability to detect and treat illnesses such as cervical cancer and more breakthroughs are around the corner. Also, people are healthier and aware of life-extending habits like daily exercise and meditation.
But our bodies are destined to decline. We can’t reverse the process of aging. That’s the stuff of science-fiction.
Today’s poem gets at the truth of getting older; we embark on the graceful journey of living toward the body’s end and celebrate along the way.
by Danusha Laméris
The optometrist says my eyes are getting better each year. Soon he’ll have to lower my prescription. What’s next? The light step I had at six? All the gray hairs back to brown? Skin taut as a drum? My improved eyes and I walked around town and celebrated. We took in the letters of the marquee, the individual leaves filling out the branches of the sycamore, an early moon. So much goes downhill: our joints wearing out with every mile, the delicate folds of the eardrum exhausted from years of listening. I’m grateful for small victories. The way the heart still beats time in the cathedral of the ribs. And the mind, watching its parade of thoughts enter and leave, begins to see them for what they are: jugglers, fire swallowers, acrobats tossing their batons in the air.
“Improvement” by Danusha Laméris from BONFIRE OPERA © 2020 Danusha Lameris. Used by permission of The University of Pittsburgh Press.