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Old man at bay

by Mike Masterson | March 5, 2023 at 2:18 a.m.

Singer-songwriter Toby Keith once asked actor Clint Eastwood how he stayed so active and seemingly youthful at 88 years old. Eastwood's response: "I just get up every day and don't let the old man in," provided fodder for Keith's song "Don't Let the Old Man In," used in the score in Eastwood's movie "The Mule."

But wait just a cotton-pickin' minute here, old man trying to get your nose in my door!

Wasn't I 30 years old and in the prime of health just a decade or so ago? OK, maybe two? It seems that way at 76. While I don't feel like I've cracked the door for my old man, I can definitely hear him breathing heavily at my door.

Father Time is a different story altogether. As if life inexorably aging toward oblivion isn't challenge enough. Throwing in all the afflictions he adds to the process is unfair enough to be downright illegal.

My old man began demanding entrance this year after months of battling the squamous cell cancer in my neck. Some things that come upon us from out of darkness beckon his presence more than others. I'll not rehash any of those experiences.

Yet it's relevant to the point that all that's happened over the past nine months has gobsmacked me upside the head, leaving me to finally realize just how many decades have passed since Dec. 10, 1946.

A big part of that has been understanding everything I took for granted just last April, especially the simplest things like swallowing, eating favorite foods, shrugging or lifting my left shoulder, enunciating my words and phrases in a voice above a harsh whisper, and being able to feel the left side of my head.

My new normal is whatever of me remains to embrace, which I'm working toward accepting day by day.

Among the biggest adjustments in striving to create this strange new normal, in the early going, has been accepting what reality has become versus what it had been. That's more difficult than some who haven't reached this place might imagine. That's perfectly understandable since, as long as things rock along in our world day after day, it's hard to picture it all forever changing in a short period. That's not how we humans think.

We don't plan for it because there's no need to when things seem as they should be. Yet, as those of us living in the age of silver and wrinkles know, profound changes during this age can appear in a day, triggered by any number of events, from accidents to disease.

Since we can't change our reality, our only choice is to free ourselves from mental attachments we have formed to things. A year ago I was attached to Italian food, tender steak, walleye filets and Sonic No. 2 cheeseburgers. Now I'm attached to this feeding tube.

As difficult as that change has been to accept, I know it's crucial to me to face my remaining existence as it's become, today and in the future. There really are only two choices I see: Either live in a miserable form of regret and denial, or accept it and advance.

It would be interesting to know just how many others reading these words share my perspective for one reason or another. How we each got to this place in our lives really isn't all that relevant.

What matters most is realizing the 12-step wisdom behind having the courage to change the things we can, accept those things we cannot and the wisdom to know the difference.

To me that only leaves one choice for living: Realign one's sails to adjust to the new winds while doing everything possible to hold your old man (or woman) at bay.

Fined for dogs

Back in the world of large dogs left unrestrained to maul and sometimes kill people and their smaller pets, Maumelle District Court Judge Rita Bailey last week fined a negligent Maumelle dog owner $300 for allowing his two pit bulls to roam freely in the community.

Patrick Keck of Maumelle, who had pictures of the dogs running free, was at the hearing. He said he's felt threatened by the dogs more than once. At one point, the unhappy owner engaged in an open exchange with the judge who told him to stop interrupting the process.

She ordered the owner to either leash his dogs or put them on chain runners, as local law requires.

Good for the judge! I would have made it $1,000. The last place pit bulls or any large dogs with undeniable histories of mauling, biting and killing people need to be is running through neighborhoods. However, Keck said he photographed the same dogs free to roam again within an hour and notified animal control. If I were the judge, that would be a $3,000 contempt fine.

As further evidence of the horrors when such dogs are left to roam comes the story from South Carolina of 39-year-old Kyleen Waltman, whose arms were amputated at the shoulders after she was attacked in 2022 by three unrestrained pit bulls while walking a sidewalk in her hometown of Honea Path. One news account said doctors are unable to outfit the mother of three with prosthetic arms.

Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist, was editor of three Arkansas dailies and headed the master's journalism program at Ohio State University. Email him at [email protected]

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