It seems just when I personally need a life lesson, one of my animals is right there to teach it to me. The past five years of my life have brought many unwelcomed changes to my physical abilities, and frankly, to my husband’s as well. Neither of us has the energy we did just five short years ago. Neither of us can hear as well, see at night as well, or remember just about anything. I have endured five major surgeries in that period of time, only one of which made things better: my total left knee replacement. Don’t get me wrong. I am most happy that modern medicine has been able to keep me going and above ground. I am grateful for my prolonged life, even if it is not exactly on my most-hoped-for terms. I’m not really complaining, but I am noting that “things just aren’t what they used to be.”
Sterling and I now find ourselves starting to rely on others. This is not a welcomed new feature of our lives. We have been very independent people, even very independent from one another. In many ways our lack of interdependence reflects the early circumstances of our marriage when we spent lots of time apart because of work-related issues. Both of us were involved with long field trips in Chile and Alaska, places where simple telephone communication was not possible—and, of course, cell phones had not yet been invented. Being in different parts of the world for weeks at a time without any possible means of communication naturally set in motion separate but overlapping lives as a married couple. We spent a long, long time doing things for ourselves. Thus, we don’t follow other’s leads all that well.
So now, it just doesn’t sit right that we should have to ask for help or rely on others. And, yes, I know that this perhaps is the biggest issue for people of our age, letting go of our independence. How do we do it graciously? How do we keep our self-respect and -esteem while learning to rely on others?
I struggle with this. And now I see Chinook struggling with it as well. Losing full sight in his one eye puts him in a different world. He must be more defensive as his diminished senses put him at greater risk from all sorts of dangers: other members of his herd, predators, or simple obstacles in his path. He may not be able to judge distance and depth as well, see or track movement as readily.
I watch him as he begins this new chapter of his life. He clearly is hesitant on the trail. He needs to look more closely before moving forward. He will need to completely adjust the way he navigates, being sure to see things with his healthy eye, taking more time to maneuver through the terrain.
The interesting thing is that I am far more keen to learn about how to help him than I am to learn how to help myself. I have not been searching the internet for websites with self-help advice on getting older and letting go of authority and independence. It does not interest me . . . or, just maybe, it scares me, or perhaps I can’t lift my head out of the sands of denial long enough to focus on it. I’m not going there and you can’t drag me.
No, I would rather take my medicine in tiny spoonfuls. Learn by watching Chinook, learn by trying to teach Chinook to transfer some of his independence to me. I can become his eyes. We can learn to work together to make it possible for him to do more than he could without me. I am confident that by teaching him, I will, in fact, be also teaching myself. And this really feels much, much better. For one thing, I am confident that Chinook will not prolong the process by getting all hung up on unimportant things such as self-esteem.
Over the years, I have noticed the transfer of power and authority from my mare Annie to her daughter, Lady Lonza. Annie has always been a real “kick ass” sort of a horse. She doesn’t like other horses or other people getting in her way. She has endured a great deal from her knee injury long ago, but she has not let that diminish her attitude. Yet as her abilities have waned over the years, she finds herself more and more being protected by Lonza rather than the other way around. And now, she seems totally content with the situation. She happily lords over her grandson and gives him far more discipline than does his own mother. Annie and Lonza have worked it out.
So too have Bonnie and Clyde. Bonnie has been blind for years and Clyde has naturally assumed the leadership role. He clearly looks out for her, and when she was away at the vet hospital to have her eye removed, he fretted about her and burst into joy when she returned. She is his responsibility, and he takes it seriously. She gives him as much as he gives her.
And that is the part I am trying to learn. I know that I will derive great pleasure from helping Chinook chart a course through his new world. It means much to me to be there for him, and I absolutely look forward to the increased connection that working with him this winter will forge. Being dependent on one another means to prize one another. There are obvious rewards for both.
A couple of years ago, our son, Jake, came back to Montana after graduating from Gonzaga Law School to study for the Montana bar (which he has passed) and settle back in the Missoula area. He has since been living at Dunrovin in his own apartment above our garage. All three of us, Sterling, Jake, and I, are treading on new ground, carving new paths. Jake is taking on more and more, and Sterling and I are depending on him more and more. We resist. We hate how easily he can fix the satellite TV and computers, leaving us in the dust. We don’t approve of everything he does. We irritate him at times. We are grateful for his help. We LOVE watching movies and TV with him as he has such insightful comments to share. He loves eating dinners that Sterling cooks and bouncing ideas off of both of us. Our other son, Mark, comes home to add more spice to the pots, pulling us all in different directions, teaching us new and unexpected things. What turbulent waters these are. Two steps forward, one step back. A continual balancing act. Moving from parents showing the way to equals sharing the way to elders following their way.