Along with my recurring and highflown ambition not to be a bitter old bat, I also don’t want to be old and boring. I’m making a bigtime play, instead, at being old and interesting.
You know what that means. If you’re going to be halfway interesting, I keep lecturing myself, you can’t go around whining about your aches and pains all the time.
Easy, you think? Ha.
The trouble is, when you develop a problematic body part (which seems to arrive with aging), it automatically becomes the most fascinating topic in the universe. Who cares about minutiae like world peace, bedbug infestations, or the Academy Awards when your shoulder hurts? Your world shrinks to the size of a 50-cent piece located a few inches from your neck and your formerly encyclopedic interests morph into an existential moan.
You’re not boring, you keep telling yourself, defensively. You are simply focused. That’s all. (Pain, like the prospect of execution, has that effect. How is it that you’ve spent most of your life hardly noticing your shoulder – specifically, the right one – and failing to give it the excess of attention it clearly deserves? You have been so remiss! But, anyway.)
Worse, you notice, you start to experience the rest of the world differently. You become a shoulder-centric person. If you don’t know what shoulder-centric means – and why should you, if you haven’t had shoulder problems? – here’s how it goes: In a roomful of people screaming about politics or literature, you can pick out the word “shoulder” from 100 yards away. You are irresistibly drawn to whoever uttered that word, since you know the two of you have so much in common.
“Did I hear you say you have a shoulder problem?” you ask, a little too eagerly. The other person, you will note, lights up like a holiday tree. “Why yes!” she’ll say. “How did you know?”
And there you are. You have a new best friend – and you know you’ll never lack for topics of conversation. Every time you see each other, you’ll be off to the races, swapping stories about your original injuries, your physical therapists, your pain, your prognoses, your existential woes.
Oh, sure — go ahead and criticize me for falling short in my efforts to be old and interesting. The fact is, I’m still trying to get beyond my little shoulder issues, but my right shoulder seems to have other ideas about our relationship. In the meantime, I should add, I am really quite popular in the shoulder-centric community for my ongoing commentary about living with a bum shoulder.
The funny thing is, life often saves you from yourself and the rut you’ve created. In the past few weeks, I fractured my third metatarsal on my right foot. A whole new body part, a brand-new community of fellow sufferers! Maybe I’m more interesting than I thought I was.
(Copyright 2014 by Ruth Pennebaker)