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The Challenge of Old Age as the Body and Mind Collide


As one gets into the 70's the battle between the mind and body take on new dimensions. Visits to your local general practitioner and even the local hospital become a part of everyday life. Your daily dose of high blood pressure and other assorted tablets regulate your very survival. The mind tends to forget recent events like: "Why did I go to the kitchen right now?" Days past seem to be much easier to remember. When they play "Golden Oldies" from the 70's on TV, you find you have never even heard of them. You revert to listening to music from the 50's and 60's on your laptop, music you danced to as a teenager. The lyrics like "don't you step on my blue suede shoes" remind you of the Rock and Roll age of your youth.

You bore your family and friends with stories of glory days that they have heard several (many) times before and you see the brave attempts on their faces to humour you. Modern sport is "not what it used to be" before professional sport spoilt it all you complain as you watch the Premier League or the Masters. Loyalty to club, province and even country was all that counted in "the good old days". "Remember when....." becomes a repeated refrain, if not on your lips at least on your mind.

It is however, when the body gets left behind, that old age really smacks you in the face. Getting into the car becomes a challenge as your neck which has seized up, battles to bend. Your legs should know where they are going but seem to take on a mind of their own. Pain in your muscles (what are left of them) is as much part of life as getting up in the morning. Steps that have been fine for years now become somewhat frightening as you try to walk down them. The muscles in your legs are like jelly and doing simple things like standing up become a serious challenge. Getting up from the floor reminds you that getting down there was a bad mistake in the first place. Having a wrestling match with your young grandchildren is like a fight for survival in Wrestling Mania.

Fine hand eye co-ordination has gone out the window. Tying a hook on your fly rod line is almost impossible due to a combination of shaking hand and doubtful eyesight. Spilling sugar and coffee on the counter seems to be par for the course. Speaking about courses; you see the advert for reduced fees at the local golf club and realize that you are never going to play 18 holes of golf again unless you can afford a golf cart and living on a pension makes that impossible. The only golf you can play is putt- putt and even that can be a physical challenge going up and down steps.

But it is having to give up doing the things you really enjoy that is the worst. I am not talking about sky-diving or playing rugby. It is fishing from your little boat in your favourite dam or swimming in the surf. It is walking out onto the rocks to cast your bait out into the sea. Climbing up a ladder to repair a leak in the roof or hang a picture on the wall was never high on my list of favourite activities but the fact that I can no longer do them is a cause for some regret.

A visit to Gubu Dam near Stutterheim in the beautiful Amatola Mountains is a case in point. Here I have enjoyed many hours rowing on the clear deep waters doing battle with the Rainbow Trout. It seems like something that I still should be able to do for a long time. What is easier? Push the boat into the shallows, step into it, sit down and off I go. Or what about a swim in the warm waters of the Indian Ocean at Nahoon Beach, catching a few waves (probably foamies to be quite honest) and get some good exercise?

Last week at Gubu as I tried to sit down on the seat of my boat I missed the middle and sat down on the side. A tipped boat lead to water rushing in and like the Titanic I sank to the bottom, and only the muddy shallows saved a disaster of great proportions. Between the crabs, weed beds and my wife's hysterical laughter we managed to regain the waterlogged boat and some of my dignity . Success in the first, but not really in the second.

Swimming in the surf has also turned into somewhat of a problem. Getting into the surf is fine and catching some waves is also okay. But then getting up in the shallows to wade back into the waves or exit the sea is a problem. As I try (unsuccesfully) to get up the next wave flattens me off my wobbly legs. Even a bit of a surge keeps me down in the water, stuck like a bit of driftwood. I either have to leopard crawl onto the sand or back into deeper water, much to my embarrassment, or the amusement of any unfortunate spectators.

So what am I saying? Old age sucks! But then I guess one has to be grateful that one has reached this problematic age and be thankful for the memories crowding into ones slipping mind. There is so much to be grateful for, so many books to read, so much love to share and receive. Thank you Lord!