Vexations and Conundrum – November 2023


 I have this feeling that something is imminent, like the awareness one feels when a very distant train whistle blows as it approaches a railway crossing and train tracks are visibly close. My senses are alert. I do not want to be caught unaware. Yet I have been in a state approaching denial.

The first indication I had of this issue came out of nowhere. My husband and I were eating at the bar of a Mexican restaurant, chatting with a couple next to us. We discussed travel and I found it unusual that they went repeatedly to Bali, such a distant travel destination. We have never been there. It is so far away that it isn’t on our bucket list. I queried them about their past careers, as they both were retired. The man had been a pathologist. “Not forensic, but the type of specialist who diagnoses cancer,” he clarified. Then he surprised me by asking how old I was.

Men are not supposed to ask a woman’s age, but I guess he had doctor’s privileges. My response was to stare mutely at him, my eyes darting as I tried to remember my age. Two or three numbers floated through my head. I was stumped. He asked what year I was born and informed me what year of my life I was in.

“No wonder I couldn’t get that. That number is too big,” I responded in earnest.

I still cannot believe that I am approaching an age that qualifies me as old. Not elderly, but old. I think the pandemic is partly to blame for my surprise. All the world’s clocks and calendars should have paused while our lives stalled for the plague. Now, here I am staring into the abyss of the ancient, three years gone up in smoke while we dealt with the surprise illness that put our lives on hold.

I have started trying to decide what things I want to do before my body decides for me. Already I look at traveling in a new light. How long can I sit on a plane before my hip freezes up? If we drive somewhere, how many overnight stops must we make to refresh for the next leg of our journey? Comfort is a primary concern, as illness is likely if we push too hard. These were not considerations just a short decade ago.

Friends are talking about acquaintances who can no longer travel due to health limitations. The problems arose overnight. They saved up, worked hard, just to be relegated to their homes, watching the news. This is not the golden era they had envisioned for themselves.

Other friends have had to relocate due to health issues. Altitude can challenge hearts. Specialists required to treat chronic health conditions are only in certain distant cities.

I look ahead and realize in horror that I am three months from my next significant destination. The train warning horn sounds. So close!

I’m ticking off to-dos a lot more frequently. I have sped up my goal to make new friends, as some friends moved, others passed away. I must act quickly, as learning who one “clicks” with takes an investment of many lunches and long conversations.

Global warming and social changes have me evaluating if I’m in the location where I want to be in my final chapter of life. Is my environment healthy and tolerant enough for my value system? Should I be somewhere cooler? Current world conditions are dystopian.

The chugging of the train’s wheels is much louder now, signaling that I must make my decisions faster. And I must convince my spouse that any changes are necessary.

We are so close to the final stop.

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Katina Pontikes
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