The Other I

March 14, 2010

It’s easier to give than to receive

Filed under: Uncategorized — theotheri @ 4:08 pm

I’m not a person who remembers dates very well, and I rarely remember anniversaries.  It’s embarrassing:  I rarely remember on the day the anniversary of deaths of even my sister, and it is usually friends who remember my wedding anniversary.  In fact, I couldn’t sit here and write with absolute certainty the date I was married.  It’s July something, 197-something.  (This is not old age:  I’ve always been like this.)

All of which is an introduction to my unexpectedly noticing that 33 years ago this week my father died, and that I have now lived longer than either of my parents or any of my grandparents.  Maybe that’s why I’m finding getting old such a surprising experience.  I don’t have a lot of close experience watching how it’s done.

I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately.  I’m still healthy enough not to be considered among the “old old,” but I think a lot about how I want to grow old old.    I’m not saying how I “hope” to grow old, because I’m not talking about those things over which I have no control.  I “hope” that I do not spend years in a state of dementia , prolonged physical dependence, or pain which I cannot escape.  I “hope” I outlive my husband, mostly because he hopes I do.  But I have limited control over things like this.

I do have some control, though, over temptations and opportunities that – now that I’m thinking about it – are so often presented to those of us fortunate enough to live long lives.

A particular challenge, as I see it, is to recognize in myself how I am changing, and how what I can do is changing.  It’s hard to know, for instance, just how in touch I am with the world other people are living in.  It’s hard to gauge the extent to which my intellectual abilities have slowed.  There are other skills too I once had, which may or may no longer be up to the job.  Should I repaint our guest bedroom myself?  can I still tile my bathroom floor, scrape the moss off our roof, hang the bedroom wallpaper?  Or is it time to hire a younger fitter person?

And if or when I can’t do these things, what do I want to be doing with my time?  I still find great fulfilment in reading, in writing, in music, in helping others when I can.   But there might come a time when the only gift I can give to someone else is to accept their help and support.  Basic things like letting them help me dress and eat and wash and get to the bathroom.

Since childhood, I have been the helper, not the helped.  Since childhood, I’m the one who took care of my little brothers and sisters, not the other way around.  The virtue of giving was ingrained into my religious upbringing and taking was always tinged with a subtle suggestion of selfishness.

Besides, I don’t like to be helped.  I’d rather be independent and make my own mistakes.  Besides, giving does a lot more for my ego than receiving.  Giving makes me feel generous and wise and virtuous.  Receiving makes me feel dependent and inadequate, and I’ve always felt it was too big a price to pay for feeling loved.  I’ve never needed a lot of convincing that to give is better than to receive.

(Which is not to say that I haven’t been immensely fortunate.  The gifts I have received all my life are great beyond my limited words.  Actually, given all the practice I’ve had, I should be much better at receiving than I am.)

But perhaps learning to be helped is the one final thing I will learn in life.  I do not have children who will find an extra bedroom where I might grow old old and die.  If I do not die quickly, I will have to decide whether to go into care or to end my life myself.

At this point in my life, there is no question of my deciding to let go.  I’m happier than I have ever been in my life.

But I know – I feel in my bones – a time is going to come when I don’t belong on this planet anymore.  It’s going to be time to go.

When that time comes, if I have control over the situation, I do not plan on hanging on for the sheer purpose of staying alive.  And I’m not at all sure the world is going to need yet another elderly infirm person to care for simply to give me the opportunity to learn to come to terms with being dependent.

Dear God Almighty, I find life an interesting challenge.



  1. Well I too also think about how I want to age. I thought my problem with getting back in shape was just getting older and not exercising for a while. Well last week I was stunned with news that I have a weak heart and will have an angiogram this week to find the cause. Right now I’m not feeling brave, but just emotional and scared. I think the biggest reason is just the unknown and the loss of control on my life. I agree with you that giving makes you feel generous,wise and virtuous. But now I’m finding that all those times that we have show kindness,
    sure comes back tenfold. I have had such an outpouring of love that I think that is what is going to help me get through this. Since you ended with Dear God Almighty, I know you still pray 🙂 so say one up for me.


    Comment by djc1 — March 15, 2010 @ 3:52 am | Reply

    • Thank you so much for sharing this. I’m beginning to think that all the planning and thinking in the world doesn’t ever completely deal with the shock of coming up against our potential mortality in practice and not just in theory. My prayers & hopes that whatever the test outcomes, you find a reservoir of strength and support that perhaps we uniquely need in this time of our lives. TOI


      Comment by theotheri — March 15, 2010 @ 4:43 pm | Reply

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