The woman sitting next to me in the doctor’s office was a stranger. She looked to be about 50; pretty, with the body of an athlete — toned arms and legs. She was in a wheelchair. I was holding my cane and back support.
“What do you miss most from your old life?” she asked gently.
The question surprised me, but I was not offended. For some reason, I felt comfortable answering her. What did surprise me was how easily and quickly I was able to respond.
“Sailing,” I said.
“Oh, I think I can understand that. For me, it’s running,” she said with a sigh.
We turned our chairs a bit so we could face one another. It seemed appropriate.
“What is it about sailing that you miss?” she asked and I laughed. Everything, I thought to myself.
“The smell of the salt water. The feeling of the wind. The colours of the sky. The sound of the sails as they capture the breeze. Or the ropes, when the wind subsides and they clang against the boat. The seagulls. The laughter of my mates as we flew over the waves. Or their grunts when a sudden storm required strength and skill to guide us safely back to port.” I looked down at my hands, suddenly embarrassed by my flowery description.
She smiled. “For me, it’s the silence. The only sound — my feet as they hit the ground. The feel of the earth beneath me. I used to run mostly on trails in the woods or mountains. Or on the beach. Usually alone. It’s the only time I got to be truly me. To hear my thoughts. There are so many people most of the time… Too many, sometimes.”
We grew quiet. The nurse appeared from behind the door to the rooms where we would each face whatever news the doctor would have.
“I’m Linda,” she said. “It was nice talking to you”.
“Carole,” I replied. “Same here”. And she was gone.
I’ve been thinking a lot about that chance encounter. I learned something surprising in those few minutes.
It isn’t the many physical abilities or pain free life I led for so many years that I miss the most. I am learning to deal with their loss. Reluctantly. Sadly. Even angrily. Some days better than others. But determined. What I miss is the feeling that there will always be more. More days of sailing, traveling, meeting new people, trying new things. Adventure. Freedom. Limitlessness.
Once again, I am reminded of time. The limits ageing imposes in various ways. I hear the clock ticking, and I wonder, given my new health challenges, how can I make the most of the time I have left. The ship is sailing, and I am not on board, but I’m still able to stand on the beach.