Denial

I’m 72 now—well, OK, not really until next week. I have been a runner since I started high school over 57 years ago. I like to say that when I got out of college, I forgot to quit like everybody else does.

So, I have been pretty fit most of my life. I’m tuned in to what my body is able to do and the kind of performance I can expect from it. Unlike many people, I don’t listen to music or other things while I run; I listen to what my body is saying to me. All of this is to say that my body is pretty fit and I have a pretty good understanding of its fitness at any given time.

I know that performance declines as people age (although I didn’t know until recently that the decline is not linear). So, I should not be surprised to discover that my running performance is deteriorating. What I am surprised at is how long I have been able to keep from admitting that this was actually happening. I knew this was happening when I was 40, but I was able to convince myself that “My performance was less than I wanted because I’m not in great shape right now.” Or, “A little more intensity in my training and my times will be back where they should be.”

It’s not like that any more. Six years ago, before my prostate cancer, I was running half marathons in 2:10 (2 hours and 10 minutes), and I was looking toward pushing under 2 hours into the low 1:50s. This is not an elite runner’s time, but it isn’t bad for someone who is 60 something. At the end of this month, I plan to run a half marathon and will be happy with 2:40 if I can manage that. If I look forward to something better, it’s 2:30. 2:10 is out of the picture.

You are wanting to point out that I’m simply trying to deny that I am aging. You are right, of course. I know that. I’m an expert—I’ve been doing it for 30 years. The important question is why do I do that? My life today is better in almost every way than it was 30 years ago. Why would I want to turn back the clock? Well, I don’t want to turn back the clock, and today I’m giving up on the denial I’ve been practicing all these years. I think I have finally outgrown the idea, held by every young person, that I am invincible—death is something that happens to other people. No, it’s going to happen to me, too.

I’m grateful to be able to get rid of this denial at a relatively young age when I’m still healthy and active. Recognizing that my life is finite and has an end point in the not forever future, I can change what I do and how I live to be intensely in this moment. What a gift!

From that point of view, my daughter should be grateful for her breast cancer. It is a difficult and scary thing to face your mortality at any age. Facing it at her young age is much harder. But, getting beyond that fear and avoiding all those years of denial will lead to many beautiful years ahead.

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