A Fall 

In college, I played a string of old men. This was largely due to my voice, deep and full. I had no notion how to play an old man, though now I could do a pretty good job—I’m 82, for chrissake. I could even forget my lines. The greatest challenge, though, is balance and the little goose-granny steps that result from keeping attention to balance.

Last Tuesday was a challenge. For some time, we’ve each done a once-a-month solo day, an escape from our mate’s armpit and our cat infestation to do whatever we please. This was EF’s turn, and I decided to drive our semi-comatose van to a grocery store that had a fairly good hot table.

But the van wouldn’t start. We’d left it to sit and the battery died. She had our Prius, so the choice for dinner was either my home cooking or to walk the mile and a half there and back to fetch ten bucks worth of goodies. I’d done it before, and I could use the exercise.

But the audiobook I listened to on the way was not compelling, so I turned it off. I searched my blank mind for a thought, but the blank mind was blank. But I found myself walking through a field of flaming dandelions, soon after past a play-yard of children, soon after that past active tennis courts, and these got me there.

I did manage to exercise self-control on the deli stuff, but the way back was way more challenging. My steps got shorter and shorter, and as a consequence my hips began to ache. I had a cane for balance, and it saved me several times, but I still had a quarter mile, and my steps were ever shorter. At last, I fell.

After you fall—after I fall—the first moment is checking the pain, if any. The second is thinking Oh damn! By that time you’ve forgotten what led up to the fall and the actual fall, and you’re only trying to get up.

Which is harder than you think. Nothing works the way it should. Muscles that ought to lift you, don’t. And this was on a country road where nobody stops. They stopped. “Are you okay?” “Did you hit your head?” “Any pain?”

I was surrounded by people who were moved to help. Of course I was vastly embarrassed, but a woman offered to give me a ride—it was less than a quarter mile—and I accepted with thanks. Abruptly, I was home. I was bathed in the affection of cats meowing for their supper.

I learned many things. I was no longer young, but that I already knew. To play an old man, you start with the balance. From the dandelions, the children, the tennis, I saw there were uncounted wonders to think about—I’d known that, but I’d forgotten.

Above all, I found a newcapacity to accept help when it’s offered. I should have known this as an artist—having a gift to offer but none to receive it makes Jack a dull boy. I recalled an incident, many years ago, when I was in desperate need and convinced a concerned stranger that I didn’t need his help. What a foul deed to do!

I’m learning.


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