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A matter of relativity

I’m not talking about Einstein’s theory here, but the third, or maybe the fourth definition, depending on which dictionary you’re using, “Relativity; dependence on a factor that varies according to context.”
In spite of the fact that I was born in 1934, most of the time I feel little different than I did in my late teens and early 20s. A couple exceptions are; when I look in the mirror and when I try to put on my socks. (Those television commercials about devices designed to help you get your socks on are becoming more and more relative as time passes.) Television hasn’t done much to further the progress of what we see in the mirror, however. If anything, those recent promotions featuring TV stars of the past definitely work to the contrary. The ravages of time are made more apparent by glimpses of those same stars as they appeared 30 and 40 years ago with their smooth skin, firm jowls and real hair. Makes me bustle about, hiding my high school yearbooks and all photographs taken before the year 2000.
“You are only as old as you feel,” they say. And that depends on whether they’re talking about before or after the Aleve kicks in, or if that item you reach for in the grocery store is on a convenient middle shelf or way down near the floor. Medical science has come up with some wonderful solutions for some of the problems that arise as the years go by. Hip and knee joint replacements have kept a lot of us on our feet and more or less mobile, and carpal tunnel and rotator cuff surgery have relieved a lot of the pains that made ordinary activities uncomfortable or impossible. Falling has become a much greater hazard than it was in our youth.
Remember when we fell down on purpose? Dying dramatically while playing cowboys and Indians, or sliding into second base was part of the fun and we didn’t even get bruises. Now we’re more likely to end up in the emergency room with a fractured pelvis. And we could jump off the roof of the chicken house (or the front porch railing, if we lived in town) land on our feet and take off running. Now, we need a hand rail to get up and down three stair steps and demand the city build ramps to help us get up and down those 6-inch curbs.
The viewpoint from these more advanced years has changed in more ways than the physical and I sometimes think the psychological changes are more critical. In many ways, I haven’t changed very much emotionally or intellectually in all this time. I still haven’t overcome my inability to make small talk, despite all the years I’ve had the opportunity to practice; and in spite of all the books I’ve read and classes I’ve taken, I seem to know less about the world than I thought I knew in my youth. (I know now there isn’t a state called Dixie, as I once believed, but I still couldn’t draw you a map of the southern United States.) I’ve discovered that other people have insecurities and inhibitions similar to mine, but I have come no closer to conquering them, in spite of all the time I’ve had to find solutions.
I haven’t lost my compulsion to make things better, in spite of having discovered some things simply can’t be improved. I believe the things I do for the people and organizations in my life are important and others depend on me to do them, but still I suspect they will find other ways to fill those needs when I no longer do, and I reluctantly admit there will probably be improvements over my ways.
I have trouble convincing myself I am not indispensable in certain capacities and things will go on without great inconvenience if I should suddenly disappear. Take this column, for instance. I would hope some of you would miss reading it, for a while at least, and this newspaper wouldn’t be doomed if I were no longer able to write. But I still feel a strong obligation to write something every week in spite of the fact most columnists take time off for a few weeks every year– even the syndicated ones and those on staff with big newspaper chains. Realistically, I know you would survive just fine without my musings and opinions, and there would be plenty of other things to fill this space every week. But somewhere in my past, I was taught it is best to keep promises, to be reliable and consistent, and to never abandon a task until I have done it to the best of my ability.
And I still haven’t been able to kick the childish habit of thinking the world is a pretty nice place, despite all the horrific things we hear about on the news; and people are basically good and honest even if recent events tell us different. So, maybe I’m an incurable optimist- or maybe it’s all just a matter of relativity.