This 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.
Still, 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.