The residents of my smallish home in the rural flatlands of west-central Missouri consist of Max the golden retriever, Hugo the basset/Aussie, and a reclusive, unshaven quinquagenarian of predominately Germanic lineage (at age 57, that would be me). Our days are predictable, which is cool with the pups. What I most envy about dogs is that they live in the present, brimming with happiness, relishing each moment for its own sake. They are, without question, the most optimistically Zen of semi-domesticated critters.
The semi-domesticated critter who supplies the dog food (again, that would be me) is not nearly so enlightened. The best I can muster is a marginal level of acceptance. For nearly six years—while dealing with the trials, tribulations, and health issues of my extremely aged parents—I’ve adapted to the realities of a 24/7 on-call status. This should not be construed as a complaint, for I knew the score when I moved here. Rather, I try to bear in mind that adaptation—not intelligence, talent, tenacity, or magical thinking—is the foremost ability bestowed by nature.
That said, accommodating a changing environment does not come easily or naturally for most humans. Birds do it, bees do it, even trunks of trees do it. For them, change involves neither thought nor question nor the inkling of the possibility of refusal. They operate on instinct, on biomechanics, on an all-encompassing clarion that screams the imperative to survive and thrive.
Those of us who walk on two legs and/or watch Netflix are the exceptions that prove the rule. We battle alterations to the familiar, safe, or prosaic with unbridled passion. This rebellion against the inevitable becomes fiercer as we age. Despite our allegedly superior brains, few of us willingly release ingrained habits, old beliefs, and ways of life no longer possible or even vaguely pleasant. We cling to that which we know, sometimes to the last breath, out of fear, ennui, desperation, and nostalgia.
It’s like this: Adaptation is defined as the art of stepping off the tracks when standing in the path of an oncoming train; sanguine expectation is defined as staying put, refusing to budge, and hoping the locomotive grinds to a screeching halt three inches from your nose.
It becomes ever more apparent that the adaptations I’ve endured over the past six years are microscopic. In comparison to the tectonic shifts unceremoniously foisted upon countless others, including my extremely aged parents, they are nothing. I bitch and moan and swallow heaping doses of frustration, but so do we all. My personal change of circumstances, viewing up close the ravages of time, ill health, and mental deterioration, has given me perspective. It shows me that my annoyances and disgruntlement, scientifically speaking, amount to diddley squat
I’m trying, amid countless stumbles and setbacks, to view all this as a gift and learning experience … a teachable decade if you will. I’m hoping, on the very slim chance I ever find myself in a state of extremely advanced age, I will hearken back to the admonitions of my younger self.
I hear the geese honking overhead as they wing their way toward warmer locales. Max and Hugo are rolling in the brown grass, engaged in a slobbery faux battle. The fields lay fallow, and no matter where you go in this world, the sky is the same color. I must remember to enjoy single moments. I must endeavor to adapt graciously with time, circumstance, and the always capricious/not always benevolent hand of fate.
To achieve any semblance of a quality life, so must we all.