Onwards and upwards, no rush.

At the grand old age of 72 I’m starting my fourth (or is it fifth?) career. Tomorrow I will wake at 5, be on the beach by half past, back home by 7 and at work by 7.50.

Cripes. Flip me. Bother. Ouch. I must be mad. This can’t be right. What? Will I manage? Will I seize up? And similar explosions of mild worry, slight dread, and a sense of inadequacy. Covid has done many terrible things and I know I’ve got off lightly, not having caught it, but it’s meant that I’ve earned not one penny for 9 months and thus…. something has to be done. The bills aren’t Covid shy, they keep coming in, so it’s back to hourly pay at the basic national rate for me. Hurrah!

But hang on – I’ve been stuck at a desk for the last 36 years, with brief forays onto the set, quick trips to London for meetings, or Manchester for script conferences, or Bristol for storyline chats or all over the place. I’ve been to Reykjavik and Hong Kong and Ireland and a few other places through the years but I haven’t been helping old people to get up, to get dressed, to eat and remain interested in life, I haven’t been helping them to shower and bathe. In fact, I haven’t been at all useful to anyone at all, at all, at all. And, shockingly, this week I’ve realised that, as I live in a single storey house, in lockdown I haven’t walked up a staircase in over a year! Me, with my sciatica and funny left leg… no stairs for a year! So yesterday I went to friend’s house (yeah, yeah, socially distanced, both vaccinated, necessary work etc etc) and walked up her stairway three times. It nearly bloody killed me!

I don’t even know what the stairs are like in the care home where I’ll be working – Covid restrictions mean that I haven’t been inside it yet, even my interview talking place in the garden. I did warn them, when I applied for the job that I’m not great on stairs, will be slow, but back then I didn’t realise just how slow that would be! So, if you have a spare moment in your prayers tomorrow, please pray for my gammy left leg. I’m telling myself that although the residents are not much older than me, they will be even less fit, and so if they can manage the stairs, so can I. If you think I’m joking…. I am, but it’s only a very little joke with a whole lot of truth in it.

For the last couple of weeks I’ve been aiming for 7000 steps on the beach each morning, and trying to do it in a brisk and no-nonsense fashion, swinging the arms (ouch, my shoulders) and placing my feet firmly on God’s good earth (swimming shoes help). Do I feel fitter? Just a bit, and a few other walkers have said things like “We didn’t think it was you. Got a bus to catch?” and that’s given me a little lump of hope that I’ll be up to the job. I know that tomorrow, at work, I mustn’t slow down at all in case I’m mistaken for one of the residents and lovingly led to a chair overlooking the gardens and given a crossword to do….. oh, hang on…. that sounds OK actually. That could be Plan B if the stairs defeat me.

Let me tell you a secret – life under lockdown when you are single and unemployed is BORING. It’s mind numbingly, bloodcurdlingly, sanity eroding, BORING. So, although telly work has dried up, and the BBC seems to have stopped making radio drama, and I haven’t got any more ideas for a book (or none that I’m ready to share) a fifth career is just what I needed and I am so grateful for it. In so many ways.

Old age ain’t easy, my friends. We talk about being fit and active and all that, but you know the greatest fear? The greatest fear is that we will be unloved and irrelevant. And when you’re single and old, you can feel completely both of those things all the time! Take it from one who knows. Over the last year I’ve recognised that what I’m doing is working hard, really hard, to remain relevant in a world that doesn’t need me. I am so conscious that as I work with the residents tomorrow, their greatest need is to feel loved and relevant, and valued. Appreciated. And I can do that even if it takes me half a day to get up them bloody stairs. We’ll get up them together and have a laugh on the way. We’ll compare aches and pains and I’ll tell them about my dogs and they’ll tell me about their lives, and we will pass the time together. I know loads of old songs. And I can tell some terrible jokes quite badly. They deserve better, I know, but we’ll rub along OK.

We’re reading 2 Corinthians in online church and I must have read this next verse a dozen times in the last few weeks…. Paul had some trouble of some kind, we don’t know what, probably not stairs in an old people’s home, but we know it was physical, and this is what God said to him ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ 2 Cor 12:9

That’s what I have to remember on the fifth stair when the 90 year old overtakes me. God’s grace is sufficient. I am not alone.

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