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STOIC POETRY | Minding a sore foot

Updated: Sep 4, 2021

October 22, 2019

Dear Eric,

Our talks back then were so full of optimism. Our youth spoke only of life, and of the optimistic promise of decades to come which must last forever. Everything was an eager uphill climb then. We were to climb with strong bodies and youthful minds. There was no summit we could not attempt and master. And the sun would always rise again on tomorrow. Though we knew this was a lie. We believed the lie was true. At least we kept muttering the lie under our breath. We uttered it honestly. We really meant it...though we knew it wasn't true. We'd live forever as youth. We'd see a thousand tomorrows and a thousand more. And we'd always be strong. And our minds would always be keen. And we'd always have the satisfaction of being willful and young and adventurous and new. And we'd never die like the rest. How could we? We thought we were immortal. Though we knew this was not true. We lied to ourselves then. Like we lie to ourselves now. Only you no longer lie. You can no longer lie. It's just me who lies.

But I have my better moments... Though I can't talk to you about them. Heck, if I tried, the you who died would quickly dismiss my words as the nonsense fear of an old man. But it's true. I do have my better moments now when I see beyond the illusion we once agreed was always real, though we always knew better. It's the old age that does it. Not being old itself, but becoming infirm. It's the developing weakness of limb. And it's the aches which I feel here and there. And the ease with which I injure, and the long time it then takes to recover. And then I injure the same place again so easily. And then there's my mind...and my inability to command thoughts or recall words. What was that? What was that thing or word I wanted to say just now? Why is my thinking so unclear? I'm becoming like an old boat developing leaks. There's water seeping in here and there throughout the hull, and I've got to mend the spots and man the pump. It's becoming so much work to keep the thing afloat...and I know the work has just begun. Worst of all is the fear. The sense of no longer being immortal. I always knew that was true, of course; but it was fun playing the game of forever when I could, like pretending to be a superhero kid and running around the yard with a sheet tied around my neck as a cape. "Look at me! I can fly!!" I'd shout to everyone. My kid friends all laughing and playing the same games themselves. None of us feeling any genuine pain yet. Our bodies too strong and brand new to betray our invincibility. But it's the pain at last which reminds the best. The pain which comes when youth and middle age have worn off. The little "ouch" in my ankle when I try to walk straight. Or the sore in my elbow from swimming too much. And I know I've got it easy compared to some. Some of my contemporary friends are in real pain. They truly suffer. I'm not there yet, thank goodness. But I feel for them. For all of us the illusion has worn off. For some of us, much later than others. And I know that my current ease won't last. My turn is coming. But what of it? What to do with this fact of a failing body and a sputtering mind? What a pain this is. But also, what a challenge. What a worthwhile challenge... Maybe the best challenge or opportunity yet.

As my vision fades, And the pain in my foot swells; I'll reckon the state of the sun, Above the sea. Another fine sunset, Another fine day

The thing that came easy in youth was to accept and enjoy my good health. And now, I can just as easily do the same with infirmity. Why not? What's so hard about accepting pain as well as strength? Sure, it's nicer to be strong? But isn't it stronger still to accept and manage pain? Am I not a better man - and a better example to my daughter - when I see what I am, and what I am becoming, and make adjustments to my life in accord with these truths?

And so, my foot hurts... It's that little twisting pain above the arch of the left foot which feels like something's bending too much, like a tendon is pulled too hard and might break. It makes me limp. I feel like an old man limping this way. Damn it. I don't want to feel - or be seen limping this way - like an old man. I'm only 55, almost 56, too young to limp. Damn foot. Damn age.... But wait, why am I letting myself get caught up in such thoughts? How are these to avail the limp? And look...while I was fussing I nearly missed the sun going down - the very thing which I came to the beach now to see. As I was walking on the shifting sands my foot ached and I almost missed the sunset for my dwelling on the pain, and my disappointment in growing old. I'm glad I caught myself before I missed the show. I'm glad I decided to stop walking and just look at the sea. There goes the sun... Just past those clouds out there by the islands. Look at those slanted rays. And the way the light reflects red off the hills behind me. Maybe I'll sit right here and give my sore foot a rest. This patch of sand is as good as any. I'll just move aside this bit of dried seaweed and I'll take this piece of plastic litter with me back to the trash when I go. Who said I need to walk all the way to the water's edge? What rule is that? The sunset is now after all. And I'm here after all. And my foot aches and I'll take a rest. Right here. Right at this spot. I'm no young whippersnapper you know. No sense running all about while the sun goes down. Those days of upset haste are mostly done. I know better now. I know to protect my weak foot. And my weakening body. And my mind which has begun to fall - not fail, so much as fall. So, I'll sit here on the warm sand while the light goes out on today. And tomorrow I'll know myself better and remember my true place and circumstance in life. I'll mind my sore foot. And I'll sit where I can to watch the sun go down.


My name is Kurt Bell.

You can learn more about The Good Life in my book Going Alone.

Be safe... But not too safe.

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