Identity Theft ffffffgggggggg Over the past 80 or so years, standing with decreasing erectness at my mirror, the source of the most available if exactly backward and virtual information we have of ourselves, short of a shrink, I have smiled at my new biceps or frowned at my sagging platysma, while my memory has gone from magnetic to sieve, and I have advanced from speeding tickets to handicapped parking. It’s all staggeringly overwhelming, just plain staggering, and I’ve got to talk about it, in awe if not exactly celebration. I’m a different person in my 80s than I was at 3. The demoniac of Gadara hosted a legion of devils all at once (Matthew 8, Mark 5, Luke 8), but a legion of personas (some have been pretty devilish) have trooped into me, one on the heels of the other. A serial schizophrenic is what I am, for identity purposes. Metamorphosis and transmogrification, from wet larva to wizened husk. Always in identity crisis, I suspect my identity at age 18 was stolen, identity theft every time I turned around, and no fraud number to call, and dial-a-prayer didn’t return my calls. Such a moving target, it’s tough to “find yourself.” At different ages a man is a different persona, to the core, not just behind different masks. Ideally, in youth a handsome blade, a nerd, or a zealot; in middle age a hustler or a factotum; in old age, and finally and only in old age, lovable or even venerable. This works only through, say, age seventy five, with luck, eighty. Beyond that all geriatric patients are again as alike as embryos. At my high school fiftieth reunion we had to wear name tags as security checks against aliens crashing the party. I suspect some did anyway. But our upcoming sixtieth medical school anniversary identities shouldn’t be of such interest. All mummies look alike. TV ads show gray coifed couples in graceful, carefree slow motion. Watch me wrench myself up out of a chair and it’s more like a rusty ratchet wrench in painfully careful slow motion, frozen in mid-twist, with amped-up sound effects and voiceover groans. There are two curiously unpublicized senile permutations. The mirror-mirror-on-the wall is witness to the first, but standing before the mirror few seem to perceive it. The second Transmogrification comes through neither clear nor loud but unmistakably, over the phone. First, behold the ear lobe. Such a cute little tag in youth, the ear lobe in girls seems to have been designed – talk about intelligent design! -- simply to be nibbled or to dangle earrings from. In senility the whole ear has mushroomed and the little morsel sags like a turkey wattle lapping out over the shoulder, heedless of the classic boundary fixed by classic Greek proportions, a horizontal line starting at the base of the nose, with the ear lobe ideally just touching it two-thirds of the way back. Portrait painters, at least of the realistic sort, still draw in this guideline, mentally at least. Picasso didn’t, but he was a freak. Nor do modern graphic artists and movie make-up artists, however highly trained in CSS code or adept with latex. If it is a flashback movie and the ears aren’t elephantine, it’s a child star playing her grandfather. That the telephone would be a problem for an octogenarian is no surprise. Being deaf renders even normal voices faint and somehow hard to understand. WHAT? HUH? REPEAT PLEASE! But what the telephone, even the most expensive iPhone, does to the timbre is mortifying. Many of my friends and schoolmates (I’m thinking of a lady who, as a girl, had a torturingly alluring telephone voice) now have such frayed, wheezy, slurred, creaky, crackly voices. As heard through hearing aids, in direct conversation, these voices are recognizable as voices, with a certain snarly charm. But on the phone old voices sound as though scrambled by the CIA to drive enemy spies totally nuts. Who is it? WHAT IS IT? That’s enough about the serial changes that have happened the last 84 years to me as a person. Zooming in on what happens at a microscopic level, inside cells at any single point in time, consider, class, the churning molecules of all sizes and massive proteins seguing into undulating conga lines, queued, shoving and butting in and ducking out or being kicked out, undergoing security checks like at LAX; and being unloaded and loaded like containers from cargo ships at Hong Kong, segments and radicals and nervous ions shooting up the town, cocky atoms like chrome and zinc shoving onto and being evicted from seats of honor; the scattered, well oiled, programmed servomotors and turbines, control rooms, messengers scurrying. Stem cells, bone cells, blood cells, whole squadrons of special-op lymphocytes or neutrophils or macrophages within nanoseconds changing their programs and munitions and scrambling to meet and destroy any invader (Tom Cruise and “Top Gun,” eat your heart out). 200,000,000 of your cells die every minute. Most are replaced but with something lacking, except brain cells which aren’t replaced at all. Every seven years we are totally different aggregates of cells and proteins and elements, fresh players rushing on and off the court like at a basketball game, hopefully not recycled as territory-hungry cancer cells. Every few months a whole new skin, not counting dandruff. Skin sloughs but embedded tattoo pigment doesn’t. It turns out to be more sustainable than granite. And at the end of it we die having already been reincarnated a thousand times, of inferior material at every return, only to be totally recycled. Except for tattoos, which outlast plastic, even silicone implants, in a landfill. But you aren’t conscious of all of this happening, except from the dandruff on your shoulder, and the forceful overall effects that you are conscious of, notably consciousness itself. Except for the tattoos, all of this is the normal flow. I was a pathologist and was involved in and embroiled by, and taught about, abnormal changes: the transformation from healthy pith and jiggle into cachexia or dropsy, or both together; playfully gelatinous stroma solidifying into fibrous leather. Pliant cartilage turning into caked concrete, bones leached of mortar, springy ligaments turned into rope or rebar. Lungs going from airy foam to cheesy balls (granulomas) or crumbly cancers. Arteries, kidney tubules, bladders, colons, include your nose, all plugged up. Creamy skin gone mottled, flaky, raw, seeping; to leathery rind. I could show you specimens and microscope slides and give PowerPoint presentations (in my day Kodachrome slides), but I’m retired and no longer scheduled to lecture about pathology, but to start experiencing it. But I won’t be talking about my total colectomy or hip replacement, only my hearing aids. For more information, ask your doctor, if you’re lucky. Otherwise, his nurse. The web will tell you more about it than I ever knew. The web? That brings me to all the changes that have happened in the world in the last 84 years, while I and my cells have been churning. It makes me tired to think of it. It’s time for my nap. Go check the web, Foxnews and MSNBC. I’m not recommending the History Channel. But don’t ask your old doctor, it’ll get him talking. Your appointment is for only six minutes, you know. Mystics and Hallmark cards like to say that Life is a journey. If so, it’s like a trip on an old-time choo-choo, jarring and jerky, with as many stops as chugs, at places exciting – “can’t we stay longer?” -- or forlorn – “please! Get us outa here!” Even with a due consignment of ecstasies, hopefully copious, changes don’t always turn out as good as you thought when you gave or got your first kiss or heard your first sweet nothing. Starting with tiny little you being hauled, confused and bawling, off to kindergarten, it ends with shrunken old you being hauled, confused and babbling, to the rest home. Between those stations most people in my circle moved up to dwellings commodious enough to accommodate a family, with a family room, home theater, downstairs bathroom and guest quarters, three-car garage, a pad off the driveway for the speedboat on a trailer, maybe a shop or studio (I had a studio). We didn’t have a bar. And then the downsizing, probably to another state, alas one of those “red” ones. So here I sit, still at liberty, in our very nice retirement-sized house, mulling it all, the jerky journey. “Are we there yet?” Parts of that journey of change, especially the first experiences and expectations, ascended into lovely alpine meadows, lovely sights, and thrilling peaks with backlit clouds, glorious sights, roller-coaster thrilling, but generally downhill, slowing, slowing, to come finally to a stop, grinding or gentle. Parts I’ll always remember. Parts are fading. Some parts, Freudians would point to the first parts, I never could remember. Some parts I definitely do not want to remember or talk about, the kind of things friends and acquaintances talk too much about. But we could never talk too much about, or be more thrilled or joyous about, -- this is what I've been building up to in this essay, and, come to think of it, for the last 86 years -- the changes we shall experience, as Paul proclaims in 1 Corinthians 15:51-53, at the resurrection, when all the gradual or sudden, acute or chronic, amusing or fatal changes essayed above, will be reversed, and the reverse will be total, totally wonderful, and sustainable, eternal. Our real identity will be returned, with interest. I especially like the part about “twinkling of an eye.”

 

    Where is everybody?

                                Meanwhile, go read "Old Geezers Are Scared of Change."

 

 

 

 

                    Click: 1 Corinthians 15:51-53

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Wesley Kime