The Aging of Gadi Bossin
© 2014, Gadi Bossin
P.O. Box 20
Kiryat Bialik, Israel
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. This book contains material protected under International and Federal Copyright Laws and Treaties. Any unauthorized reprint or use of this material is prohibited. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without express written permission from the author.
The Aging of Gadi Bossin
I’ve been thinking about when aging became personal for me. It could have been when I discovered my first gray hair above my right temple when I was eighteen.
But back then I just smiled to myself and thought, well, I guess I’ll be prematurely gray by age thirty-five like Uncle Harry Balsky instead of balding like Dad.
All the Montreal Balskys told me I bore a strong resemblance to Uncle Harry and I liked hearing that. That gray hair was just more evidence I took after my uncle.
Uncle Harry, my mother’s eldest sibling, always carried his premature gray hair and later his distinguished white mane with the dignity of an imperial monarch.
No, it wasn’t the discovery of that solitary strand of gray hair that made aging real to me.
And, anyway, thereafter I wore my own graying and subsequently salt-crystal white hair with pride the way my uncle had worn his.
That white hair became my trademark.
Maybe it was when that cowboy physician in Texas, Dr. R. H. Blanton, diagnosed my heart murmur.
A student at the university, I told the good doctor about the recurring series of three-day illnesses I’d suffered during my volunteer year on Kibbutz Maayan Baruch and over the two years since then, how each time I’d been too weak to get out of bed and had sweated through the bed sheets.
I thought I’d had malaria.
But Doc Blanton pronounced the following verdict: “I’m almost absolutely certain you contracted rheumatic fever over there on that kibbutz in Israel.”
And he went on to say, “But no sense worrying. People with your condition often live to age forty-five, maybe even a bit longer.”
But, no, it wasn’t then either. I shrugged that off, too. I was only twenty-one at the time and forty-five seemed a long way off.
And now in retrospect I just shake my head at the doctor’s gross lack of tact and understand that dying at forty-five would have meant I’d have missed old age entirely.
So, no, no, it wasn’t then.
Maybe it was during the year before Donna and I were married.
We were living in a small off-campus apartment while attending Kent State University as graduate students and on my birthday Donna, with panic and alarm ringing in her voice, said, “We’re thirty!”
I was thirty. She wasn’t.
She was almost three years younger than me, but those two words, “We’re thirty!” said loud and clear, “We’re still students! We’re thirty and we haven’t even begun our lives yet!”
No, it wasn’t then.
I’d laughed out loud, thinking Donna’s panic and alarm hilariously funny.
Oh, and by the way, on my subsequent birthdays—including even the notable ones at forty, fifty and sixty—Donna never again made a similar declaration using the first-person plural pronoun.
Okay, so perhaps it was when that American sailor called me “Pops.”
No one had ever called me “Pops” before.
The sailor played first base on a softball team from the USS Nassau, one of the Sixth Fleet ships that put into Haifa Port for maintenance and R&R for the crew in July 1989.
The Haifa USO arranged exhibition games between teams of sailors and the Shomrat Cubs of the Israel Softball Association at the kibbutz softball field, just north of Akko.
At age forty-two, with a full head of gray hair, I flashed down the base line and easily beat out an infield hit.
The big first baseman—he must have been in his early twenties—couldn’t believe his eyes and said loud enough for everyone to hear, “Where’d you get them wheels, Pops?”
No. Negative again. Aging still wasn’t bothering me much in those days.
True, I was somewhat taken aback by that appellation echoing across the field, but I also took the sailor’s surprise and awe at my speed as a compliment.
So when was it?
When did aging begin to get real for me?
When did it become part of my consciousness that I was no longer young, that growing old was becoming a significant factor in my life?
Maybe it was when I started losing the ability to do what I’d always taken for granted and never thought I’d be unable to do.
I’d never thought ahead to the day I’d have to stop running in the fields near my home in Kiryat Bialik.
I’d never considered how I’d feel when I’d be forced to retire from the recreational basketball I played over the years.
Running middle distances and playing basketball had been major components of my self-image, of my sense of who I was, ever since I was a teenager back in Toronto.
I’d run track or cross country and played basketball everywhere I’d lived in my life: in Toronto, in Texas, in Ohio, in Illinois, here in Israel. I simply loved running and playing ball.
Only when I began to suffer from lower back pain and after I’d worn elastic knee braces for years did it begin to become clear to me that my days as a middle-distance runner and twice-a-week recreational basketball player were coming to an end.
But it was the back doctor I went to who stung me with the “You’re almost done, maybe you are done!” warning.
I went to him because I’d been suffering from lower back pain that had prevented me from straightening up and had forced me to walk bent over for more than a week.
“You have the spine of a 65-year-old,” Dr. Haim Friedman (not his real name) declared, rivaling old Doc Blanton’s coarse lack of tact.
I was forty-six at the time and cardiologists in Ohio, Illinois and Israel had assured me for years that I’d very likely live well past age forty-five.
That cowboy physician, Dr. Blanton, it turned out, was way behind the latest research and developments when he supplied his uninformed prognosis back in Texas in 1968.
Those cardiologists had told me repeatedly that sometime around age sixty-five I’d probably need to have valve replacement surgery and then I would likely live another decade or two or even more.
“Chances are you’ll die of something else and not from complications of your heart ailment,” they said.
So when Dr. Friedman blurted out I had the spine of a 65-year-old, I absorbed that pronouncement as an unexpected and painful blow to my ego.
I’d been declared old and aging.
I was no longer a fit forty-something capable of running seven or eight kilometers three times a week and playing basketball as I’d always done.
Suddenly, I had the back of a 65-year-old!
This was when I had to begin coping with aging. This was when aging first became personal and real for me.
But then, a few days after Dr. Friedman’s declaration, a physiotherapist I consulted said, “That back doctor should have told you our spines have a way of adjusting. In just a short while, you’ll be back doing what you’ve always done. You’ll see. You just need to pay more attention to what your back and knees are telling you when you’re in pain.
“And then just stop doing what you’re doing for a few weeks and allow what’s hurting you to heal. You’ll know when you can resume your regular activities. It’s always just a matter of time.”
That eased my distress at the immediacy of the effects of aging.
But I knew I was receiving a temporary reprieve only.
On the other hand, I also knew I could still compete in league softball games and continue to take long walks on the beach between Kiryat Haim and Kiryat Yam and back with Donna on Shabbat mornings.
But that’s just it.
I was carrying on this inner dialogue, trying to cope with the inevitable, while at the same time trying not to pay too much attention to it, but knowing, knowing for sure, my advancing years were beginning to take their toll on me, softball and walks on the beach notwithstanding.
I understood I had a few more years to pretend to myself I was still capable of doing what I’d always done.
And that’s the way it happened. I did have those few more years.
But then the sand in the hour glass ran out. The ground came up and hit me hard.
Father Time handed me my first ever pink slip, for just before age fifty, my aching knees and the pain in my lower back forced me to admit to myself I had to say goodbye to basketball and needed to stop running in the fields.
And worse still.
These admissions coincided with my being mustered out of the army reserves and being released from my annual 30-days-a-year service in the IDF unit that liaised with the United Nations forces in Lebanon and on the Golan Heights, another undeniable sign of my advancing age.
True, I was pleased to be done with reserve duty.
It was disruptive of civilian and family life. It was sometimes dangerous. And it was definitely inconvenient.
But at the same time it was what Israelis did when they were still young. That my services were no longer required said it all.
But wait. Hold on.
Is this the end of the story?
Is this when my life ceased to be satisfying, exciting, fulfilling, full of challenge?
No. Not at all.
Years have passed since then.
I’m 67 now.
It’s a year and a few months after that corrective valve replacement open-heart surgery.
To say that I’m thriving is an understatement.
New challenges and new adventures keep coming my way. And they’re coming at a dizzying pace.
They’re coming at me in my working life. New initiatives are presented to me.
I just now got off the phone with someone offering me a role in a new business.
In my own way I’m part of the start-up nation!
But quite apart from work, new chapters in my life keep opening up.
I now swim a few times a week in the pool at the Technion.
I do a home workout routine three or four times a week that includes working with light weights, a roller exercise to tone my stomach muscles and a non-impact glider “run.”
I continue to go for long walks on the beach with Donna.
I have time to be Grandpa Gadi to my granddaughter Lia.
I have time for friends.
I read more and indulge my muse as a writer as never before in my life.
I have time to discover the world anew.
And now for the moral of this story and why I wrote it:
I hope you’ve had a few laughs reading what I’ve written.
My message is simple:
Despite the passing years and despite the unavoidable fact of aging in our lives, as long as we don’t take ourselves too seriously, and as long as we are healthy—and I wish all of us good health—there will always be new challenges to take on, new worlds to conquer.
And it will always be possible to continue to blossom and grow.