We suffer betrayals throughout our lives, and generally come to understand their reasons and even accept them: A school chum tattles on us to save his own behind; a sweetheart is completely smitten by another and “young love” is crushed; a co-worker sees a chance to improve his (and therefore his family’s) prospects, and makes us the scape goat for his ambitions. We’ve all known these betrayals, and perhaps been guilty of much the same kind of offense against others. And betrayal brings it’s own repercussions that “even up” most scores. Eventually we see the betrayer’s reason, and forgive the offense, however grudgingly.
But the cruelest, most intimate and devastating of all is the betrayal from within. Most youngsters haven’t the vaguest of clues as to what I might be saying, but the slightly older among us have begun the process of waking to the crushing assault. It comes from within us: our own bodies attack our selves and our worlds with the stealth of a military operation: One day you find your arms are just not long enough to read a letter or bill in the mail; you find yourself stopping to rub a cranky knee or elbow that has never bothered you before. One day a doctor tells you to start taking this or that medicine because your annual tests suggest a problem that you’ve never felt or been aware of. Your body has started (subtly at first) to abandon you. It is exacting it’s revenge for too many smokes, too many drinks, too many skipped meals in favor of sweets or stimulants.
Then the day comes when you’re told your pancreas has started to break down and diabetes is in the frame. Or you have a heart attack and it hits you that that’s a too-accurate description: Your heart has attacked you, as mine did years ago. And you realize this as if through a flash of light, and you feel completely and utterly BETRAYED by your body – your self. The idea that this meer extension of yourself could not only let you down but actually endanger your wellbeing and your life suddenly slaps you in the face. “I’m really not indestructible! I could really DIE from this! The feeling is not one of fear or one of anger. It manifests itself as a stark epiphany of the ultimate betrayal and changes your view of the world forever. For me it’s knowing I can no longer drive a golf ball well past 250 yards: I can no longer trust my body to react to an outside assault on me or my wife while in public; I can’t even simply walk here and there while my worthless pile of Jeep is in the shop – legs just won’t make it! And for my pal Dudley it’s knowing that his gruff, blustering manner is fooling no-one. He can’t get his way by simply insisting, because people just see him as an ill-mannered old man.
Many, many things have been written about this aging experience, but it’s the being let down, being betrayed by the one entity on earth you could always count on to support you that is the ultimate betrayal. In my mind I’m a slightly overweight, athletic man who can put the clubhead on the ball at just the right point in the swing to send the ball soaring to the green. The fact is that I’m a grossly obese 72-year-old man whose right foot slaps when he walks (botched tendon surgery) and whose knees have lost the ability to flex and support that swing while his arthritic hands errantly guide the clubhead in any random direction for no apparent reason. (I still love the game, of course. I just can’t hope to play it with anything like consistency and skill.) That, too, is a betrayal by my body, but one not so directly related to my own survival and wellbeing. It just pisses me off.
I think the trick , here, is to know and accept the betrayal not as a betrayal at all, but as a sign that we’ve used-up our bodies in the process of living our lives (however irresponsibly) and what remains to us is still worth using well.