I’m still trying to figure out exactly how I wound up lying on my back, feet splayed out in front of me and pointed upward, slightly to the side of my suitcase, my right hand, my non-dominant hand, gripping the handrail as the escalator in Union Station made its way up to the mezzanine. Somewhere in the bowels of Union Station in Chicago, the cameras have footage of me, lying like a turtle on its shell, flanked by two young men who’d answered my calls for help. They’d wanted to pull me to my feet but I knew that was a terrible idea considering the angles. Plus there was the fact that I had two heavy bags slung across my back, one literally loaded with rocks I couldn’t leave behind, rocks I’d collected while visiting my son and his family in Colorado plains. Those bags were underneath me. When the escalator reached the top, I pushed my suitcase aside, wriggled myself off and asked them to take the backpacks off me. Then, with only a sore bottom, shock and some humiliation, I was able to turn over and push myself upright. I thanked the young men who were looking at me as if I was out of mind, grabbed all my bags and hurried away to grab a quick bite before going back downstairs to line up for boarding my last train. Needless to say, I didn’t take the escalator back downstairs. I opted for the elevator. I think I’ll pass on escalators for awhile. Anyway, I was in my 17th hour of travel from Colorado back to my home, bone-tired and desperate for the next couple of hours to pass quickly so I could get back into my house to collapse.
I was worried about the weight of those rocks as I was packing for home. I’m not a geologist. I’ve just always loved collecting rocks which I use to create borders and attractive spaces in my garden. I actually had gone through my bag a few times, winnowing out the ones which I guessed I would just have to do without. I thought that was quite reasonable of me. At no point did I figure that they’d be anything other than hard to carry for awhile. If I’d known that they’d contribute to my falling off-balance or whatever I did on that escalator (it happened so quickly I can’t quite reconstruct what happened,) would I have left them behind? Or would I have still said yes to bringing them home? That’s what I thought about on my last train ride home.
As I approach my 73rd birthday, saying yes has become a central tenet in how I manage my life. I was raised in a family in which there was a heavy emphasis on the negative, most of which was based on fear. All potential activities were assessed based on what terrible things might happen if you did them. It wasn’t all plagues and locusts, but more the threats of assaults, dismemberment or dread diseases. I was a teenager when I started figuring out that mom and dad had an extremely paranoid view of doing anything other than hanging around together at home. What I didn’t know was how deeply ingrained that idea would become, that every activity, even ones as simple as going to an evening movie was fraught with peril. I was left to unravel the same fears over and over again trying to separate normal caution for the irrational type. Well into my adult life, my mother would frequently tell me she thought I was reckless. I had to laugh. I considered myself to be deliberate, non-impulsive and an over-thinker, almost to a fault. And here was mom, perceiving me as a throw-all-caution to-the wind person. My dad was even worse. I was in my late twenties before I realized how in many ways, my parents who were so close and so in love, were also a pair of scared kids who didn’t give each other much help in working their through all that fear. My mom, who outlived my dad by twenty-five years, eventually found her way to recognizing how they missed a lot of opportunities in their lives because of that huge hindrance.
My life was quite different. I found a partner whose strengths and weaknesses were virtually opposite from mine. I didn’t know all of that important information in the early days of our relationship at the tender ages of twenty and twenty-two. But as years passed, I realized that, unlike my parents, Michael and I were going to help each other grow, confronting our problems and finding new ways to improve our lives. In the areas where I was most cautious and more likely to find my way to “no,” he would nine times out of ten, be a “yes.” My ability to be braver and stronger and more sure of myself evolved throughout our years together. I can still hear my parents’ voices and nervous admonitions in my head but my own voice is louder and certain. When Michael died, I knew that he wanted me to continue on my positive path. I can’t say he was thinking much about the challenges aging might bring in being able to just say yes. But now I’m here for myself for those decisions.
And the answer about whether I would have taken my trip if I knew I’d have a scary incident is yes. And would I bring back those rocks? Definitely. I would add the caveat that I might not travel in as exhausting a manner as I did this time. If the future was now, I could magically teleport myself from home to elsewhere, avoiding the hassles of public transportation. My last trip in August was the flying nightmare, running from gate to gate in the airport as my flights kept getting changed, hauling luggage and feeling wiped out before getting anywhere. It culminated in a miserable overnight stay in the Dallas airport due to an overdue flight causing me to miss my connection home. That sour experience caused me to choose the train for this visit instead of flying. But obviously when you are worn out from long hours jouncing along the tracks, perhaps tripping on an escalator while laden with bags becomes more likely. Still, I can tweak some of these issues by getting some help along the way. Asking for and receiving help is not one of my strong suits in the “yes” department. I remain a work in progress. And there are different travel modes to explore. But still, I wouldn’t have missed my time with my family in their new, amazing location where they’re doing great conservation work. Those experiences are worth a fall or two.
Saying yes isn’t just about travel. Like most people, economic and time constraints determine how much time I can spend away from home. But daily life too has lots of opportunities for turning a no into a yes. Some mornings I wake up lazy. Some mornings I might feel achy and slow. The effort of getting dressed for the outside world has less appeal than a comfortable chair and a good book, or even a mindless time of binge-watching mediocre television. Getting myself going to bundle up, climb in my car, drive over to the indoor pool and jump into cold water is not exactly a thrilling option on a cold, damp day. But I’ve practiced remembering that invariably, I always feel a lot better after I’m done swimming. Or that I’m energized from dragging myself out at night to a middle school concert that only lasts 30 minutes. I feel better after attending an online class that sounded so interesting when I registered for it months ago but now looks like a bore. Don’t get me wrong – I’m still capable of choosing to opt out of things. More often than not, though, the satisfaction I get from participating always seems like a good thing that I’ve done for my mind and/or body. I have no idea how long I’ll be able to assert myself in this decision-making. I could get sick, debilitated, lose my executive function. So I really can’t stand the notion of squandering my time. What we have is so ephemeral. I think of Michael, gone now for over 6 and 1/2 years, who struggled mightily for every extra minute of breath. All I have to do is look around our roiling world to remind myself that now’s the time to participate in life. I don’t know anything about later. Saying yes is working for me, despite the occasional tumble or rotten night’s sleep. I’m going swimming now. Yes.