I have always been a very physically active person, strong and fit. I was able to do things most women would shy away from....cutting down large trees, splitting the logs, building the wood pile, loading the stove to keep the fire going. I gripped the handlebars of my motorcycle with relish, proud back then to be one of the few women on a bike. I replaced the engine in my VW Beetle twice with used ones hauled home from the junkyard...hell, it was only 4 bolts and a couple of hoses. I helped more people move than I care to remember. And the bakery, oh the bakery....... alone with 50lb bags of flour and sugar, 40 lb cubes of butter, 80 quarts of cake batter in the huge bowl of my 76 year old Hobart......14 hour days the norm, working my way up to producing 200 pies a week by myself....now that was a job of work! My house is surrounded by rock walls that I started building by the jeep load....big stones hauled up from the creek. And gardens, so much digging and digging. My friends always teased me, called me a pioneer woman. My hands were always callused and covered with nicks and cuts. They were hard working hands and I was proud of them. I loved the work, the physicality of all of it and held my fierce independence in high regard. My handshake was always strong and firm.
The other night, after these many years , I rolled over in bed and grabbed the quilt that had slid off to pull it back up and the pain in my hands brought me fully awake. I could barely grip the covers and that hurt. More than the physical pain, the pain in my psyche was powerful. I have been having to ask the younger (half my age) girls at work to open jars for me, where I was always the one who did the opening. I depend on my partner to haul wood. And this morning I could barely grab the big chunk of oak to throw it into the stove. I love to write and have a collection of lovely pens. I worked hard on my penmanship for years, and I feel it is faltering, my script looking spidery and weak
I am getting older and parts are not working the way they have in the past. I can handle the every day aches and pains, the creaky knees, the twinging back, but it is pain in my hands that is bothering me most deeply. I have watched as my father has aged, watched as my hands begin to look like his.
The hard part is that I feel that I am losing some part of myself, a very important part, a part that is so much of who I am.....How can I be myself when I have to depend on others to do for me? When holding my cup of coffee is a challenge every morning? When I can no longer make a fist? I am still very strong, very active and fit but I am, quite literally, losing my grip.
Coming to terms with this has been a challenge. I take medication to ease the pain, I don't let the pain stop me from doing the handwork that is my profession. I still garden and haul rocks. I have sensibly given up cutting down trees, although I still stack my share of firewood. In other words, I am working hard to keep a handle on who I am. But I am a modified me. I find it difficult to face up to the fact that I am a grown up. I feel that my hands are betraying me, forcing me to take a hard look and accept that which I can not change. I am trying to absorb the message my hands are sending to my brain, and at the same time, holding on to myself with all of my might. I am finding that I am as strong or stronger on the inside than on the outside, that my strength of will has not faltered while the strength of my grip has. There are lessons here that I am learning, slowly, with time. There is no shame in asking for help. I do not have to do everything myself if the load can be shared with willing friends. That what I can or can't do has nothing to do with who I am. That I am fortunate to be able to do what I can do and I still count my blessings every day.
My handshake is still strong and firm, but if we happen to meet, please... don't squeeze too hard.