As I age, there are some things that just change. Last year, I did RAGBRAI for the first time, and will repeat that feat this year. But, even as I do more new feats, some feats I leave behind as I learn to accept a few new limits.
There are things I have just given up. I used to donate blood regularly at the local Red Cross, for example, but don’t now simply because the physical effects are too unpleasant—I used to get a little lightheaded; in more recent blood donating sessions, I got an upset stomach and came too close to passing out. The recovery takes too long—and although I would encourage anybody who reads this to at least try donating blood, and I know the side effects I suffer are more psychological that physical—it’s just something I can’t do.
Today, I encountered another life limit that has changed in recent years.
I’ve always been a bit afraid of heights, but not so afraid that it prevents me from doing much. This morning, I planned to clean my gutters. They have a mesh guard on them to prevent leaves from piling up, but maples seeds, which are plentiful from a large tree in my back yard, often get stuck in the mesh, and the house has an unsightly fringe as a result.
So, up the ladder I climbed, with Audrey holding it stable. It took me a few minutes to get the courage to put my knee up on the roof, but then I screwed my courage to the sticking point. I wish I had not.
Almost immediately, I started to feel as if I had given blood—rather blah and lightheaded. My first act upon reaching the roof was to lie down on it and say a few Hail Marys. I knew I was being silly, and summoned courage again so I could begin cleaning the gutter, and off I went.
For a while. I cleared the gutter over the deck, but when I reached the roof that overhangs the yard, I was like Ameilia at the top of stairs. My little granddaughter, who turns 1 this weekend, has an aversion to “edges.” So does her grandfather. I had been plucking the seeds with my left hand (It turns out I could not orient my body the other way and use my right hand), but when I came to the Big Drop, I lay down on the roof and ran my foot back and forth over the gutter.
Did it work? Heck no.
I gamely carried on until I reached the chimney, and then rounded the corner. Not sure why I was even trying at this point, since my foot method was so ineffective, but heck, I had a job to do. When I rounded the corner to the west end of the house, I noted with great alarm that the pitch of the roof changed. The hip ends have more of a slant to them.
Not dramatically more pitch, mind you, but enough so that I had some sort of nervous reaction. I could not go on. I even thought briefly about demanding that Audrey call the Fire Department, since then CR police no longer have an air force and could not rescue me by plucking me off the roof via helicopter. I was lying down for a brief time, again, and then sitting behind the chimney, which felt better. I called to Audrey (it took some time, it seems, for me to get her attention—we had arranged that she would be doing outside chores to short of keep an eye on me, but the watcher wasn’t watching all that closely) and told her I was bailing on my job.
My daughter-in-law Nalena held the ladder as Audrey directed me. I should have turned over on my stomach, as it would make the next part much easier, but could not bear to do so, so I inched over the edge of the roof on my back, foot feeling for the top of the ladder.
Which it found. I was worried about several points—such as possibly bringing down the gutter by snagging my belt, missing the top rung after finding the top of the ladder, tumbling forward off the roof—the list of imagined disasters was getting pretty long, blog fans.
In the end, as you know because you’re reading this and I’m not typing in Heaven or Hell, just Iowa, I made it down.
This is why I know that I am aging. In years gone by, especially before we had the mesh guard installed two years ago, I’ve done numerous chores that involved clambering around on my roof. It’s a modestly pitched roof, and in the past, I’ve been able to walk on it. I once shoved a garden hose down the downspouts while crouching on the roof—don’t ask me how. Now, there is no way I would be that active, that close to the void. Today, I could not bear the thought of more than sitting on my roof, and as a few prone Hail Marys proved, sometimes could not do even that.
Well, I’m a professor, not a roofer. If I can’t climb on a roof, it’s not exactly in my job description, anyway. Still, it’s a bit uncomfortable to recognize that time has changed me into that guy, the one who can’t get on his own roof.
There is, buried in here somewhere, some sort of life lesson. You can’t give up on new experiences as you age, or you’ll stagnate, and I’m usually willing to try new things.
Not, it appears now, if they involve any heights greater than a stepladder. My personal rule now is, if it’s on the roof, somebody else can fix it.