Growing old

Today I got lost in the supermarket. I don't know why I go there when I'm feeling dizzy, except that I needed groceries and things, it was morning and it makes perfect sense to get up, drink coffee, have breakfast and then go to the store. I should know that being dizzy makes it more difficult. But, if I go home, then I'll just go back to sleep for hours and that won't do anybody any good.

While I was at the store I saw a man, an older man... a very older man... he was looking at light bulbs. My heart went out to him; I don't understand light bulbs any more, either. I sometimes feel like I'm not a part of my own world any more, then something in my mind taps me on the shoulder and reminds me that I never really was part of it to begin with. It's just that sometimes I do a better job of impersonating a normal person than other times.

On NPR the other day I heard a discussion about light bulbs. Frankly, I'm frightened. I can't keep up. Just when I've resigned myself to using florescent bulbs, I'm now being told that I'm a bad, ignorant person if I do. Granted, I did read that they contained mercury and I hated that the world was turning to them, but I'm not the one making the calls here. I'm just trying to keep up. LED lights seem to be the new way to go. Or was it halogen? Maybe halogen was two generations ago...

Not too long ago I took my father shopping. His vision has failed – irreparably it seems – and he needs a ride to the store, to the doctor, etc. He can see a little, especially if the light is bright. But, it's a challenge for somebody who lived for 75 years with relatively good vision to adjust to this limitation. We went around the store; he knew the layout fairly well and was able to get most of what he wanted with minimal assistance. He didn't ask me to grab anything for him; he just took his time looking at things right up next to his face until he found the ones he wanted. My father lives with my sister; he has a little room with a bathroom, small refrigerator, coffee pot and other things so that he can have his own space. Even in the main kitchen he knows his way around. He can cook if he wants to, or make a sandwich. When he stayed with my brother for a week his handicap was rather accentuated. He doesn't know that kitchen or house; so he's not as self-sufficient.

So, back at the supermarket and me passing by in a dizzy spell, glancing at an older man looking – with his face very close to the products – at light bulbs. Incandescent light bulbs have been around since around 1870. Imagine going through the depression, battling for work, for money, for food. Having been through the war and ration stamps. Having raised a family, made a home, your kids grew up to raise families of their own, giving you grandkids and then the grandkids growing up and beginning lives and families of their own. All through this, the most you've though about light bulbs is either not having light in the depression, or screwing a bulb in. And for over seventy years your most common concern with light bulbs is turning the light switch on. Then, in your retirement age when you're either becoming more dependent on the younger generation, or that dependence looms over you, suddenly you don't know squat about something you've taken for granted all your life – not only something you've taken for granted, but something of fundamental importance that you've taken for granted. And, not only do you not know squat, the rules are changing almost as soon as they are written.

I'll admit that I don't keep up, but the last time I checked incandescent bulbs were still on the shelf at the store. But, what frightens me is ending up like that man I saw, or like my father. I don't have children to come take me to the store. I never got around to children. (I can hear my Catholic friends chiding me about the importance of family, and all I can say to them is that if I HAD had children, they would have hated me and our combined incomes wouldn't be enough to cover the cost of the psychologist bills for them and for me. I don't think I was ever father material. Uncle, maybe. Father, no.) So what's going to happen when I'm old and unable to walk very far or see very far? And then suddenly somebody changes all the rules on me. I will be like my father in my younger brother's house. I won't know my way around and I don't know that I will have it in me to keep up. Hell, I haven't kept up this far. I go to the store and people look at me like I'm demented as it is. What am I going to do when I actually AM demented? If something as simple and fundamental as turning on a light switch isn't safe from the winds of change, how will I fare when I'm too frail to fight?