Aging and the Complexities of Life

Life is often complex. We all experience that need for a little smoothing of the edges from time to time. That is what archery has done for me practically all my life. It never removed the complexities, but it did definitely smooth those rough edges each time it was employed.

For the better part of this past year, I have found myself gradually growing deeper into primary caregiving for parents, ages 88 and 90. That is ongoing. The future is uncertain, but a logical conclusion is that none of this will end soon. The chores will become even more pronounced as days pass. Many of you identify; you have done the same or are doing the same. And you know the responsibilities are gladly met. To do otherwise would trouble our spirits, disturb dignity. But you also know those responsibilities can be tiring, emotionally draining.

A great portion of that drain is the simple task of watching, seeing those we care about and who have cared for us decline in abilities to live life as they, and we, have known it. My mother was always the one to congratulate my dad and me when we came home with fish or game. Such ingredients were an essential part of our food supply when I was growing up. We had little more than what we grew or took from the waters, woods and fields around home. It was my mother who always reminded us that we were important and essential. It was she who watched with a smile and spoke with a kind voice as we pulled a collection of wild foods from tattered vests or sacks. There are now days when she doesn’t know where she is when she wakes. Can’t recall the names of her church friends.

And my dad? Always robust and strong. He had more hair at 75 than I did at 50. It was he who brought home a single-barrel shotgun when I was 12 and showed me how to use it. It was he who took me to the squirrel woods and quail fields, always giving me the first shot. Or second if I needed it. It was he who ordered my first bow and cedar arrows from Sears somewhere around 1958. It was, clearly and without question, he who inspired and taught and encouraged me in the ways of wild things. He was a master.

Now he is stooped. Now he stumbles and tetters about. Now his hands will hardly allow the turning of pages. Now his shotguns have been in the rack for two decades. Now his fishing poles have decayed and rusted away. Grievous.

And I look at myself. First it was arthritis. Then came a dysfunctional shoulder. After that, a vertebra that had to be fused. Now it is a second shoulder. And the arthritis continues to work its sinister doings. All these ailments have, for a time, interrupted my archery, but each passed and I was able to return to this grandest of all endeavors.

I now realize that I am, as we say in the country, no longer a spring chicken! Could it be that archery is, much against my wishes, exiting my life? I have steadily reduced weights: 62 to 60 to 55 to 50. Could it be 45 is next? Could it be that I will very soon no longer be able to shoot at all? Perhaps. But then how do I smooth those jagged edges that life brings?

Maybe showing a new convert to primitive ways how to build an arrow will suffice. Maybe coaching my great nephew on his draw and release will do it. Maybe. These will certainly keep me involved. But none of these will have the same impact as feeling Osage in my hand. None will accomplish the smoothing of rough edges as does absorbing the mystique of a cedar shaft gliding toward its target. But maybe none of these alternatives will be necessary for a few more years. We deal with life’s complexities as they come.