I found myself in the city, walking briskly and with a sense of urgency, toward the huge, old grey stone Central Post Office. I knew with certainty it was where I needed to go. After passing through security, I approached the reception desk and asked “Excuse me. Can you tell me where the Lost and Found is located?”
The man looked up.
“Basement level. Bank of elevators on your right. Push the LL button.”
I thanked him and proceeded to do just that.
When the doors opened, I entered a world of grey – grey walls, old linoleum floors, fluorescent lights, and another reception desk. This time the man looked up from his ancient computer.
“Can I help you?”
He was pleasant but did not seem particularly interested.
“I’m looking for several things I’ve lost.”
“When did you lose them?” he asked.
“Some this year and a few before that,” I responded, feeling foolish.
“How big were they?”
The question surprised me.
“Big things are on the tables in the crates and large cartons. Small things on the shelves in boxes,” he explained. “Arranged by year. Labeled. If you find what you’re looking for, let me know. There’s some paperwork we will have to do.”
He went back to his computer.
The room was enormous. It seemed as if everything that anyone had lost since the beginning of time was stored there. I began to walk down the aisles trying to find cartons labeled “2017.” I felt nauseous and began to panic. How would I ever find anything? Was it all lost forever?
I sat up in my bed, wet with perspiration, my heart beating fast. It was not the first time that I had this dream. With a few variations, it had plagued me often over the year. Now 2017 was coming to an end. And it was painfully obvious that I was not going to find what I had lost.
- The year of too many losses. Irreplaceable, all of them.
Like just about everyone, I have suffered loss over the years. As an abused child from a violent home, I lost my innocence at an early age. Trust, as well.
But I found self-reliance, and a determination to be extremely cautious when it came to entering into relationships. It seemed to serve me well for most of my adult life. I lost my first love to another. It broke my heart, but I moved on.
I married, had a miscarriage and then divorced. And moved on again. I found work I loved, travel and adventure and substituted them for a family life. I lost jobs and found new ones. I lost financial security and found I could do with less and rebuild. I lost my confidence and found my strength.
Whenever I lost something, I found comfort in the thought that there would be time to recoup. I could rebound and be stronger than ever. Life was a learning experience. Sadness was part of it. But I would heal and move forward.
Then, suddenly, everything changed. I was 71 years old. I had no idea how that had happened! Only that time was no longer on my side. Every loss was final, every attempt to recoup, futile.
It started with small things. Silly things, really. But startling. The first time I slipped into my favorite old jeans and discovered that they were hanging well over my shoes! The same was true with the rest of my pants. And my shoes no longer fit! They were too tight. Rings were impossible to slide on my fingers. More annoying was the fact that I could not reach the dishes in my kitchen cabinets without standing on a step ladder.
On a routine visit with my doctor, I told her about these strange occurrences.
She looked at me and smiled kindly. “You’re going to notice a lot of things like this, Carole. Your spinal disease is beginning to accelerate. And you have arthritis in your hands and feet as well. You have lost almost an inch in height.”
I like my doctor and more importantly, I trust her. She is young but seems like an old soul. She always tells me that she treats and advises me the same way she would her grandmother.
“What do we need to do?” I asked.
“There are some medications we should consider. As well as physical therapy. Some nutritional counseling is a good idea. And regular exercise is a must. But most of all, and hardest for you, will be learning patience and acceptance.”
I did not like the answer. Surely, this could be reversed if I worked hard.
“We can manage the pain,” she said. “But there will always be some. And you will find your mobility issues increasing. Right now, walking with a cane is a necessity. As time goes by we can discuss what else may be needed. But your life is going to change. How you deal with the changes and what you do with your life is up to you. I can help. Specialists can help. But there is no turning back the clock.”
It felt like someone had sucked all the air out of the room.
She was right, of course. The days of taking long walks, one of my favorite things, are over. So is traveling on a plane. Or any standing in long lines or for extended periods of time. And it’s not any easier to sit. My friends have adjusted to my getting up and walking out of a movie, or standing up when we’re eating out.
Sometimes it’s embarrassing. But the alternative is to not go at all. And that is not acceptable!
It takes what seems like forever to make my bed or do food shopping. Routine household chores now require scheduling -no more than one a day. Little obstacles seem like giant hurdles. I hate it.
My struggle with health issues, and the accompanying limitations, is not unusual, of course. Millions of people deal with them and far worse. And in the course of learning how to deal with them, I have found empathy and compassion. A need to be helpful without being demeaning. And an intense desire to do something useful. More than kindness. I want to find a way to make life easier for people like me who live alone, growing older without family support. Stubborn people who refuse to lose their independence but need the assistance of others.
2017 has showed me other kinds of losses. Pain that can’t be treated medically.
I have lost friends… people I love…those it took so long to find. A cruel irony.
Some have moved and others are preparing to do so. They want to live closer to their children and grandchildren. Get away from cold winters. Or they decide to finally sell the homes they love, now much too big and empty. Make the practical decision to move to “Over 60” communities, where living is easier and the inevitable illnesses and frailty can be treated. They will have interesting classes and trips, communal dinners, and the opportunity to make new friends.
I will continue to see some of them…but it won’t be the same. The intimate connection is lost. Soon, I will have to consider a move of my own. I have no family, no desire to move to year-round warm weather. I don’t want to live a segregated life. I want to hear the laughter of children, the barking of dogs, and see and talk to all kinds people of all ages.
To do less, I honestly believe, would be my death sentence.
The final loss is that word I shudder to even mention…death. Something I rarely thought about until I turned 70. Now, approaching 73, I find it lurking around every corner. Waiting to ambush me.
2017 was the year I attended two unveilings, a month apart. Two women who meant the world to me. One was the closest to a sister I would ever have. The other, a role model of sorts, who showed me how to live even when you are dying. I miss them more now than before. Three others have died as well. Our vibrant, interesting, quarrelsome, loving group of seven is now two. I find it almost impossible to initiate new friendships. Too risky. How can I possibly sustain more loss? How often do I want to confront death…others…and my own? What can I possibly find in doing so?
It seems that my growing older is a lot like a Lost and Found. Some things I “lost” I do not miss. I probably never needed them.
Some things I tried desperately to “find” or replace. My robust good health. My friends. Financial security. The freedom to go anywhere and do anything I wanted, any time…a sense of limitlessness. It was, and is, an attempt doomed to failure.
Some things I found that I did not know I wanted or needed. Writing. Photography. A simpler life. A willingness to step up, have my voice heard, without worrying about what others will think (I’m not entirely there yet). A satisfying spiritual life.
And some things I am still looking for. Patience. Acceptance. A way to turn passion into practice. Talk into action. Disappointment and anger into Grace.
I need more time. I hope I have some left. The Lost and Found is always open.
Carole Leskin is a retired Director of Global Human Resources. Embarking on a second career as a writer and photographer concentrating on her personal accounts of aging, her essays and poetry, frequently accompanied by her photos, are published in Jewish Sacred Aging, Jewish Women of Words, Starts At 60, Navigating Aging ( a Kaiser Health publication), Women’s Older Wisdom, Time Goes By and Next Avenue. Her poems, “Father Time” and “Carole’s Debate” were selected for inclusion in the 2019 anthologies of poetry, New Jersey Bards. Her photos have been featured in Mart R Porter Nature Forum.