Living Old While Being Young

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As my feet carried me around the corner, towards that familiar final quarter, so my thoughts had carried me. This realization came between “Stronger” and “Some Nights, so I was probably pounding a little harder, running a little faster.
 
I was thinking. I was remembering that in fact, years ago, I felt as though I could identify quite well with members of the elderly community. In their old age, some couples decline together, while in other instances, one partner is considerably robbed of his or her former self, declining much more rapidly than the other. While living, these individuals lose components of themselves that those in the prime of life rarely consider. They lose their health or their mental faculties or their mobility. In those things, they lose so much that their very beings shift, regardless of their best efforts and strongest senses of character.
 
As these partners experience this unfortunate contrast, their lives are no longer truly parallel, except for the indisputable and impenetrable bond that their commitment to each other fuses between them. While their love for each other may be strengthened, the process itself is undesirable.

 

In so many ways, we were like these couples, yet quite conversely, we were young when Joe was diagnosed.
 
Of course, there was the beginning and the end.
In the beginning, Joe lost so much.
By the end, Joe had suffered so much.
 
Today is now neither the beginning nor the end.

 

Today, I could run.
Joe couldn’t run on his last day here. How he yearned to run! He begged. He pleaded. He looked so confused and upset as we were forced to deny his request.
Joe had lost the ability to move his legs.
 
Of all the things I remember, which in fact seem to be quite few, I remember that day, just over six months ago.
I remember components of that night quite vividly.
I remember Joe’s physical and emotional responses quite vividly.
 
Today, I run.
Recalling, I remember the first couple of months.
It was the start of a new year when he was diagnosed.
 
I was 19. Joe was 20.
And even as it was happening, we knew it wasn’t normal.
We didn’t rant and rave and blame God. We didn’t fight the diagnosis.
 
Of course, then we were still unstoppable. Then, we had always won.
True, we had disappoints and setbacks, but then –
 
Then, we hadn’t been changed.
Joe hadn’t become an old man yet.
 
Because that’s what it was like.
I still cannot imagine or fathom how difficult it must have been for him, despite being there, through it all, beginning to end.

 

But then, when it was still fresh, before we encountered so many ups and downs, before we felt trapped and stagnated and lost, before we were forced to give up dreams as one died and the other lived –
 
Then.
Then we did our best.
 
We hoped. We prayed.
We watched TV. We sat in silence.
We ate on trays. We downed Saltines.
We made his hospital bed fit two.
 
I remember the first several months well.
It’s the middle that I don’t know.
In the middle, we had periods of nearly normal life. The middle was both promising and unsure.

 

And as I was running, I thought about the difference. In many ways, I don’t feel as though my life is so extraordinary, until I remember my elders. Until I recall the widows and widowers, who have had to watch their closest friends and most beloved companions decline.
 
In the beginning, Joe declined so quickly. I lost a great deal of him then. Now I realize this. Now I can recognize how long it had been since the best friend and boyfriend that would be customary for the average nineteen year old, American girl, was still there. Joe’s love never diminished, and it’s not as if there weren’t times that I wasn’t petty or we didn’t bicker, but things changed.
 
Now, I’m realizing that when Joe was diagnosed, I lost what I knew him to be.
 
When your best friend has cancer throughout their body, not only are you not as quick to go to them with complaints, but you may also hesitate before sharing good news or successes or possible future plans.
 
When your boyfriend is constantly exhausted, you’re not getting texts or calls with any regularity, and you’re not going out on Friday nights. Or any other night. It’s just not happening.

 

But then –
Then, too, there was the middle.
We can’t forget, because I’m not sure what to do about the middle. I don’t know how to reach it. I’m not sure what to do about the mixed memories. By then, I had chosen to acquire a sort of emotional numbness. I still believe that maintaining a type of internal equilibrium is necessary, but it distanced me from my own experiences, even as they were happening.
 
Consequently, I’m now still wondering how to reach it.
Do I need to allow myself to experience the beginning and end again, more fully, in order to come to terms with the middle and, as a result, gain a better understanding of who I am in the since?
 
In stories and movies and in our own, true experiences, we see the surviving partner accept their life without the other. They grow bitter or become calmer or accept a sort of complacency. They long for things that a life on earth can no longer give them.
 
But I am not old.
I am still young.

 

But once –
Once, my best friend became old before my eyes.
Once, my boyfriend lost his strength.
And in light of his suffering and all the countless losses he experienced, the loss of my sense of normalcy always seemed so minor.
 
It is the loss of strong arms and light moments and over-drawn kisses.
 
It is being unable to separate the sweet words from the drug-induced stupor in which they were said.
It is sitting alone during a celebratory meal that never seemed to sit well.
It is getting a text typed from a mother serving as a scribe for her sick son.
It is watching the ball drop alone in your home without a New Years Eve kiss to share.
It is experiencing your life progress in a strange sort of paused slow motion while your friends’ lives continue.
It is finally acknowledging to yourself that you’ve suppressed many memories intentionally, not wanting to acknowledge that they in fact happened in your own life, to someone you loved.

 

It is having lived old while still young that is perhaps most difficult of all.

 

Because now –
Now none of it is normal, and it is too hard to explain to an ear that won’t hear.
Because those –
Well those ears are young, and young ears like to be tickled, not pained.

 

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Comments
7 Responses to “Living Old While Being Young”
  1. Dayna says:

    I am left speechless after reading this…but girl the one thing I can say is that you are one of THE strongest people I have ever known. God bless you girl ❤ Love you and praying for you

  2. Julianne says:

    Janie, This is one of the most beautiful, gut-wrenching and honest words I have ever read. Thank you for sharing and for using your God-given talents.

  3. Lee Mitchell says:

    Janie, God’s ears are eternal and He knows everything that is going on with you, inside and out. Psalm 139 has been a constant reminder of that for me. I had a difficult childhood and it has taken decades to come to terms with it. But the knowledge that God knew and knows everything helps me feel not so alone:) Praying for you:)

    • Janie girl, I am blown away by your depth of emotion and your amazing ability to be so transparent in such a beautiful piece of writing. Thank you for sharing. i love you…..kim maloney

  4. raysikeswritesRay sikes says:

    Janie, the end of this rings so absolutely true. Living old while being young is your story. Thank you for all the ways you lived it so honorably, demonstrating grace and true love. Talk to me off-screen about this when we’re both home at the same time!

  5. kymof7 says:

    Janie, you know we love you, you know we continue to pray for you. I have always beleived, now more than ever, that God has poured incredible gifts into you, just as He did into Joe.

    Your openness and tranparency are such a gift to the world. He wil do AMAZING things in and through you.

  6. Don Allen says:

    Dear Janie,
    Thank you for what you have given me through this your gift. God bless you and keep you.

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