David L. Robbins
Novelist, Educator, Playwright, Essayist
True Valor (Native Son #21)
by David L. Robbins on May 19th, 2014

Sadly, I am one of those big, strong men who, when sick, becomes infantile.

I whine for attention, I can’t fend for myself. I suck up sympathy. I sleep like a newborn, and am so proud of my first steps when I’m up and around.

Oddly, in addition to behaving like a tyke when ill, my whole body turns back to the cradle. I become a catalogue of every ache and pain I’ve suffered from childhood to now.

My right ankle throbs from being spiked in Little League. My neck hurts from the VW Bug I wrapped around myself in an accident during college. My left shoulder pulses from a fight at middle school, my left eye socket from a fight in high school, a broken wrist from falling off my bike riding with my mom, a twinge in the trapezius, the result of a weightlifting injury last year; the list is as long as my lifetime and as sore as my bumptious, clumsy, active life.

Recently, during a bout with a summer flu, I lay floating on fever and memories. Every year, I add notches to myself, another ache like a tree ring, evidence that I’m still here and beating myself up. I know this isn’t going to get any better, but will build. I considered scaling back a little, another round of concessions to age.

With plenty of half-awake time on my hands, I thought of my friends who are well ahead of me in years. At 75, Gary, former ad man, still builds barns, hauls wood and works a full day. At 80, famous writer Tom is penning another book, a collection of true stories which will be his best work. At 89, Neil is the most socially active person I know except for his wife Sara at 85.

I’m 59, on the cusp of what our generation considers senior. I’m encouraged by what I see from these friends. But as I lay in my sickbed labeling the visitations of my recurrent hurts – there’s the twisted knee from Yosemite; that’s the fall off the ladder on Church Hill – I recalled my Dad who lived over half his life with pain and infirmity. He picked up MS during WWII and fought it for forty years. I hold vivid recollections of him in all his stages, like the riddle of the Sphinx. He walked on two legs, then three, then four, then rolled.

I granted my father a great many things in our time together, mostly his primacy in the household. But as I’ve grown through the same ages as him, and done it without many of his challenges, I see that I’ve neglected to grant something notable and touching. I wish to do this now, and in so doing ask you to recognize others that you know like him.

I accept that my father had courage; all the men and women did who stared down the Axis, who with bare hands raised a nation and families, like Atlases. I’m not talking about physical valor that wins medals, saves the day, rescues the cat from the tree. I refer to the guts it takes to grab a cane or a walker, the wheels of a chair, and push onward.

Every day, in our elderly, our infirm, and our young returning veterans, we see this unceasing, burning urge to continue. It can be easy for us, the ambulatory, to take them for granted. We’re not the one who suffer to drag one foot behind the other, or wish terribly that we could.

We see old folks in the store, the sidewalk, and we’re patient. We put off imagining ourselves in their straits. But the growing compendium of bumps and bruises that like ghosts of Christmas visits me every time I’m sick has yanked the veil from my eyes. I understand just how tough, resilient, unbowed are those elder friends who will not sit still. I grant this to my Dad, posthumously, sorry that I was too young to fathom it in time.

So, folks. You know someone older, someone who won’t let you catch them no matter how slow they go. Take a minute to appreciate the pain they move and live with, the rawboned gumption it takes for them just to be in our faster paths. We’re all headed their way, at out own speeds. They’re blazing a brave trail, and we should tell them we appreciate it, and will follow as best we can.

Posted in Boomer Articles, Boomer Mag    Tagged with boomer magazine, native son, richmond, aging, pain, illness, injury, rva


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