Strong Enough

IMG_0448This morning I was down at the animal shelter where I volunteer, getting ready to take a dog on its walk, when another volunteer turned to me and said, “That dog is kind of hard to get leashed up.  Do you want me to help you?”  I didn’t say it out loud, but my first reaction was, “Seriously?  You want to help me?

I’ve been walking dogs at this shelter for over fifteen years, and the volunteer who was offering to help me was still fairly new.  Plus, I am one of the volunteers who is authorized to handle even the most difficult-to-walk dogs, and I have always sort of pictured myself as someone other volunteers can turn to for help.  Having someone else offer to help me with a dog almost seemed like an insult to my dog-walking skills, and I even opened my mouth to tell her, “No thanks, I’ve got this.”  But then, thankfully, my ego checked out and my common sense checked in.

The volunteer who was offering to help me was probably thirty years younger than I am, and judging by her muscle tone, also much stronger.  And she wasn’t offering to help me because she thought I was incompetent, she was offering because the dog in question was very big, and often so excited to go for his walks that he almost pulls the person trying to walk him down.  And, as long as I’m being so honest, I’ll admit that she was probably offering because she could plainly see that I am no longer young or particularly strong.  Accepting her help just made sense, and so I did.

I have come to believe that the most difficult aspect of aging is the steadily widening gap between who I think I am, and who I actually am, physically speaking.   Accepting the wrinkles, grey hair and sagging skin that come with aging is only part of the struggle.  For me, the more difficult thing to accept is that I no longer have anywhere near the strength and stamina that I did when I was young, which means I’m still a bit shocked every time I try to do something I used to do so easily and find that it’s just a bit too much for me now.  The woman who once regularly carried fifty-pound bags of grain for her horse is now asking for help carrying in some of the heavy bags from the grocery store. And sometimes that smarts a bit.

IMG_4349Still, there is nothing I can do but accept the changes that are happening in, and to, my body.  I may still be young in spirit….and hope that I always will be….but I am no longer quite so young in body, and that means that I have to remember to cut myself some slack.  I need to pay attention to my physical limits these days, and be willing to ask for help when I need it.  I also need to be strong enough to graciously accept help when it’s offered, even those times when I didn’t ask for it.  Because the time is coming, slowly but inevitably, when the only shelter dogs I’ll be walking are the chihuahuas.

86 thoughts on “Strong Enough

  1. So beautifully written! I liked your sentence: “thankfully, my ego checked out and my common sense checked in”. At the end, you were strong enough because you overcome your ego, and it is a very hard thing to do.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. Ann, your commentary about aging hits home. I will be 70 in 2 weeks, have always held autonomy and independence as top priorities. Ain’t working out that way. Physical limitations are forcing me to look at less independent options. But, life is still good. Thanks for your writing

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  3. This has already happened to me, too, Ann. Walking for 13 years and a young volunteer offers to help me with a dog. I agree it was strange the first time or two but now I can’t wait to grab the little ones. We deserve a break. I love it. Mary

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    • Thanks, Mary! I think you are right, we do deserve a bit of a break. We were the young ones once, helping others. Now we are the slightly “older” ones, and it is more than okay to allow others to help us. I always tell the people I mentor to put their egos in the closet and be willing to accept that, for one reason or another, there will be dogs they can’t walk successfully. And now it is time for me to take my own advice!

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  4. That line about coming to an understanding of who you think you are and who you are physically is brilliant and so very true.
    I always see something that has to be done and my mind believes I can do it as I always have. But the reality is very different and if I do try it I usually pay for my stubbornness. I don’t want to admit I’m not as physically strong as I once was but the truth is right there. It just hasn’t caught up to my mind yet. A part of me hopes that one day it does and another part hopes it never does..:)

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    • It’s so hard, isn’t it? In our minds, we’re the same young (ish) person we always were. But our bodies are aging, and that truth can take us by surprise time and time again. So I know exactly what you mean about part of you hoping we don’t quite ever accept the difference, because that almost feels like a betrayal to our youthful spirit. It’s not an easy thing to do deal with at all!

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  5. I’m sure that I would have had the same initial reaction as you did to that offer of help. I am in complete denial of my physical changes as I enter my 60s. That dog could have dragged me half-way down the street and I would have held on smiling like everything was JUST FINE.

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    • You are so funny! And I’ve done that sort of thing myself more than once around the house, getting heavy boxes off of high shelves rather than asking for my husband’s help. I think the saving grace for me is the fact that I’m walking shelter dogs, not my own dogs, and I feel such a strong responsibility to keep them safe that it was easier for me to put my ego away. But that doesn’t mean I’m not in denial in almost all other areas of my life!

      Liked by 2 people

    • Yeah, that first offer of help getting your groceries to the car is a little hard to take, isn’t it? I don’t know if my mental self-image will ever again jive with my physical reality, which means it’s always a little shocking when I realize that perfect strangers see me as “a woman of a certain age.” And you’re right, those “younger generations” just keep piling up, don’t they? Good to hear from you Hariod!

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        • I completely understand. Sometimes it’s hard to balance the time blogging takes with the other things we are doing (and the long-form writing sounds very interesting!). I’m just always happy to hear from you, and to know that all is well.

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    • It is hard, since I always thought of myself as somewhat strong. I’ve never been an athlete, but I could do physical work without any problems. Not so anymore! But it does help to realize that other people our age feel the exact same way.

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      • Hi Ann, I might still be having some trouble technical problems with my blog address. A techy person is going to help me with it soon. My blog address is: overthehillontheyellowbrickroad.com
        Is that the address you’re using? There’s an older address (ridingwiththeuniverse) but that one shouldn’t be functioning anymore. Does that make sense? Cathi

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  6. Hard for guys too whose end up hurting themselves thinking they are still 25 when in fact they’re 60. Especially now living on five acres I have to remind myself of that every time I head out to the back 40. but yeah that young whipper snapper at the shelter…

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  7. I am not surprised at all that you are normally a volunteer who volunteers to help volunteers, but resists the offers of volunteers to volunteer to assist you in your volunteer work. A little twisted up maybe, but not surprised.
    My wife (who is, like you, uber-wise) reminded me recently (when I complained that I’m not able to stay focused and motivated for 30-hour days as well as I used to) that I can do stuff now that I couldn’t do then. Like appreciate a loving wife, and taking that extra moment to be there for a friend who just needed someone to listen and not try to solve problems.

    But I didn’t know I’d be missing these “skills” then because I didn’t have them yet.

    Maybe aging is a matter of trading strength for strength?

    Liked by 3 people

    • I have never understood how doctors and surgeons kept their schedules without completely giving out!

      But you’ve made an excellent point. Maybe we don’t have the physical strength and stamina that we used to have, but we are wiser, more compassionate and less sure that our answers are the only right ones. And that does take a whole different kind of strength, and means that we still have a lot to give. Because you’re right, helping others comes so much more easily to me than accepting help, which I like to think means I’m altruistic, but might actually mean I’m just a teensy bit egocentric!

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  8. To a degree this is true Ann, but honestly, working out is so important because it helps keep our aging bodies much younger (60 is the new 40). I feel so blessed because I’ve always kept my physical health a priority, and while I can’t do what I used to be able to do 40 years ago, I still keep very active. Because of this, I can still do many things others my age can’t. You really can!! Just build up slowly and you will be amazed and happy with your own body! xoxo

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    • You’re right, I need to make sure that I stay as strong as I can be for my age. I don’t think I’ll ever be carrying fifty pound bags again (I have double-jointed elbows which complicates things), but I intend to keep on walking shelter dogs, doing yard work, etc., and am going to get back to lifting weights. And my inspiration is a fellow volunteer who is 73 and still walks a whole lot of big strong dogs! Thanks, as always, for your support and encouragement!

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  9. Excellent piece and so true. I started training for a half-marathon at 58 and realize that I’m running less than ever because I hurt my hip and had to take time off. Still, I don’t like to put an * next to things because of my age. Many of us are a lot stronger and physically fit than our younger counterparts.

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    • That’s true. If we take care of ourselves we can stay so much stronger and have so much more stamina than we would otherwise. I’m impressed with the half-marathon training! I have a friend who started running half marathons when she was in her mid-fifties and she loves it. Personally, I’m not so good at running, but I other things to try to stay in shape, and I need to keep doing that. Thanks for the comment!

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  10. Or get a husky to pull you along in your wheelchair Ann. 😉
    That was such a good call to accept the gift of support from someone else. You have lots of dog walking days ahead of you!
    It’s funny how others see us. On a flight over to Scotland, several years back, I went to the back of the plane to stretch out a bit. As I came back to my seat I heard this little boy yelling to his Mom. “There’s an old lady doing yoga at the back of the plane!!!” I have no idea why he was so excited …. but I was surprised at his adjective. Of course, I could have been older than his Grandmother …..

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  11. honestly, I never felt my age, until the last 5 yrs. I am not as strong as I used to be-and all of a sudden, I look older. I do not drive at dark anymore, I only wear comfortable clothing . . a lot has changed. But, there is a beautiful freedom that arrived with all of it. I concentrate more on real things and won’t waste my time on what doesn’t matter. i socialize with people I like-not out of obligation-I have said before . . .I feel like I am 14 again! Best wishes and I wish you many miles of walking whatever dog you want to!!!

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  12. Yes, it has recently become very clear to me too that I don’t have the same stamina as I did 10 years ago. Even so, I get annoyed when people look at me and decide to offer me a seat or something. I’m not that decrepit yet!

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    • I know! I think that’s why I chafed a bit at her offer of help, just at first. I thought she believed I was too old to handle a difficult dog, which I’m not. But I have to admit that I am getting to old to handle the ones who are very big and also very strong and rowdy. It’s hard on my ego, but good for my joints….

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  13. I like the way you handled the offer of help from the volunteer. Little things like that often make a big difference. Sadly, disappearing strength and stamina are a couple of negatives of aging. Adjusting to doing things differently can be quite unsettling at times. It’s a blessing to have someone to help when you need them.

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    • Thank you! Yes, once I stopped being so thin-skinned I realized that her offer was actually the best thing for all concerned, and that I was grateful to have her there to help in case it was needed. It turned out that the dog was fine being leashed, but he has a reputation for behaving otherwise, and having her there could have made all the difference. Thanks for the comment!

      Liked by 1 person

  14. I can totally understand how you feel about accepting that we are ageing. I will, reluctantly, be 60 in four weeks time and I’m finding that really quite difficult to come to terms with. I ought to be familiar with being able to do less because my disability has meant I can’t do the things I once could (and most people have been kindly helpful), but somehow, it doesn’t seem to be working like this for me. I can accept help graciously in regard to my disability but when it comes to accepting it because of my age, I feel almost obstinant which is of no help whatsoever to anyone, least of all me. I think I ought to practice being more accepting of any assistance offered whether for my disability or my advancing years as ageing is inevitable after all.

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    • I can see where it would be hard to accept additional help because of aging, even if you are good at graciously accepting help due to a disability. Aging changes our self-image, and that’s hard to cope with, I think. Sadly, I don’t think we have a choice, but that doesn’t mean we have to like it! Thanks for the comment!

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    • Oh, Patty, I know! You’re still a valuable part of the team, but you do have some hard adjustments to accept now. But I’m still SO looking forward to having you back, and you know the dogs are, too!

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    • Yeah, it does feel like an insult! It interferes with my self-image, which means my ego takes a hit. But slowly, I’m learning that I just need to stay as physically strong as I can, and then make sure I recognize the emotional and mental strengths I gained through aging. It helps.

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    • Thank you! And that’s a good point that I forgot to make in this post: when I mentor new volunteers, I always tell them that handling the dogs in an open-admission shelter is hard, both physically and emotionally. And while I may be losing some of my physical strength, I think I am actually gaining emotional strength.

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  15. It’s a rough adjustment–I know what how feel. Eight years ago, I could work men in their twenties into the ground. Now I can barely keep up on the jobsite for six hours or so. It’s definitely an adjustment, and not one that’s easy to make.

    But we can still offer love and those experiences of ours that can pass for wisdom in a kind light. I keep telling myself that will have to be enough. 🙂

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    • I tell myself that, too. And I have liked some of the comments that suggest that age brings a different kind of strength other than simply the physical one, as we grow more tolerant and wise. It helps me to think of it that way!

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  16. Love, love, love this post because you just hit the nail on the head. I’m in the exact same spot in life. I’m shocked when other adults call me ma’am. I also look for help when I pick up the grain bags for my horses and no longer foster dogs over 50 pounds, knowing that one might yank me over (like happened last summer wherein I wrenched my knee and ended up in a brace for a month). Happy to discover your blog and also VERY grateful you look after shelter dogs. Blessings on ya.

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    • Thank you so much! It sounds as if we have a lot in common, and I look forward to reading your blog. Good for you for fostering dogs! It’s so much better for a dog to be in a foster home than a shelter, so please know that is very much appreciated.

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