Lately I've been thinking about graceful exits. It all started when I was perched on the examining table at my orthopedic doctor's office, squirming as she poked, prodded, and bent my rather puffy knee.
"All runners become walkers. It's a natural progression," she said. "The damage I'm seeing on your x-ray is totally age appropriate."
Age appropriate? Really? What does that mean these days?
I have athlete friends in their 50s and 60s who have new knees, ACLs courtesy of cadavers, hips made of titanium. I know an amazing woman and rower, Liz Stone, who at 87 is a bona fide trivia question in the Head of the Charles regatta program ("How old is the oldest competitor in this year's race?").
As far as I can tell, slowing down these days simply means swapping out one activity—or body part—for something new.
At the same time, I'm also haunted by something a wise doctor said to me a few years ago when I was going through treatment for what I like to call my cancer drive-by. He asked me what I did for pleasure and relaxation. Without even thinking, I said, "Move."
Rowing, running, hiking—all of those things free my mind and fuel my creativity. Always have.
His next question floored me: "What are you going to do when you can't move?"
I had no idea what to say. I've counted on my body to get me up mountains and across the water. I expect my knees to bend, my quads to fire, and my arms to pull.
And for the most part, my body has complied, not without the occasional aches and pains, but still it's done a fine job and the joy and freedom I get from moving through the world, sometimes at warp speed, is pure heaven.
So what is this "age appropriate" crap?
I'll tell you what it is. It's when all the sudden lowering yourself on one leg as you gently descend onto the seat of your rowing shell is less like a mindless habit and more like negotiation talks with hostage holders. It's when the crossfit instructor chastises you for not going super deep in your squats and you're thinking, um, but this is deep.
That's when the art of transition comes in and instead of waving the white flag of surrender, it's simply calling a truce—an agreement between mind, body, and spirit to keep going, to push to the limits, albeit gently, maybe even gracefully, to the end.