I close my eyes and I’m sitting next to my dad in the four-seater Cessna prop plane he used to fly. Cessna 8562-Uniform, making final approach. Each gust of wind and air pocket jostles the tiny craft along its flight plan. I never had the flying bug like he did. I was more concerned about getting my driver’s license and took little advantage of what could have been a built-in pilot’s training course. But a few times he did let me take the controls. Takeoffs were easy – just push the throttle forward and pull back on the stick and things pretty much work the way they’re supposed to. Landings are harder and I never had the nerve to try those. The approach made me nervous. Too many unknowns and potential hard impacts.
Lately, I’ve been growing increasingly aware of my own approach, so to speak. A milestone is coming. One from which I’m still far enough away to be calm about, but the fact that I’m tracking it in months now and not years is troubling. I probably wouldn’t be too concerned if the only thing reminding me was the calendar, but it’s not. Some days I feel like I’m falling apart. Put simply, I’m getting old.
40 is the age, I tell my boys, when most professional athletes retire. They hang up the cleats as injuries mount or desire fades. Unfortunately, as I also remind the boys, Dad does not have that same option to retire (if only…). And while I’m not in the grave yet, I’m definitely noticing a decline (no, not the sitting in a bathtub watching the sunset TV commercial kind of decline, thank you very much). Just in the past few months, I’ve had to dash to the dentist when my jaw seized up to the point that I couldn’t even chew food (apparently I suddenly have jaw clenching). I had to visit the podiatrist when my feet started killing me if I stood too long or walked too far without shoes (worn padding on bottoms of feet? – I need insoles). You know you’re in trouble when you look around the doctor’s waiting room and you’re the only person under 70. I’m on the verge of finding a new hairstyle, after glancing in the mirror the other day and thinking it looked like I had on a toupee (I didn’t, thank you). There is no longer any doubt that my hair is disappearing nearly as fast as it is graying.
My college psych professor used to tell a joke that he had furniture disease. It’s when your chest falls into your drawers. That’s the only thing I remember from that class. I’d blame it on aging too, but my memory has always been crap. I’ve forced myself to get back out on the jogging trail several times a week so that I can keep up with the boys since now is the time that they’re becoming bigger, faster and stronger. (what have we done!) After throwing 150 odd pitches to 13 eight and nine-year olds at baseball practice last week, I thought my shoulder was on fire. This is going to be rough.
I’m back on an airplane. The seatbelt sign is on, electronics are turned off. My back is barking and my knee aches from sitting for too long with too little leg room. Features in the landscape glisten in the sunlight below and San Francisco gradually comes into focus. A flight attendant walks by and pulls up at my seat to ensure it’s in the full upright position. My ears pop as our altitude gently decreased. I tug at my belt and grip the armrest. We’re on the approach. Here we go, ready or not.