Joy in an Old Friend

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops an old friend joyfully painting her carpet from a wheelchair.“When are you going to photograph me again?” the most adventurous one of my friends asked. It had been eighteen months since I last photographed her. Since then we’d spent hours together in emergency rooms and doctor’s offices. We’d also gone to plays and dined out in local ethnic eateries. But over the past year my friend has become more and more dependent on her wheelchair and oxygen tanks. I can’t recall when I last saw her walk more than a step or two. The oxygen tubes have become a permanent facial feature. She would no longer want to pose for pictures and then be posted all over Facebook and Twitter, I thought.

And that is what I’m embarrassed to admit: I all but bought into the idea that we need to hide reality, draw the curtains on any evidence of aging or disability. My friend, joyful spirit that she is, has happily posed in the past, flapping her wings, hugging plants, pretending to hug her inner child. She simply loves being in front of a camera. And I was ready to totally dismiss that because of my own hang-ups and preconceived notions about growing old.

“You have to come see what I’ve been working on,” she said, days later when I dropped her off after a gut-buster lunch at a Chinese buffet. By the time we emptied my car of the wheelchair, the pillow that accompanies the wheelchair, the bag that is supposed to stay attached to the back of the wheelchair, and the oxygen tank (which she always says is almost empty, just to get me riled) we were both exhausted. But, curious to see her new project because health issues had hampered her recent creative efforts, I followed as she wheeled herself into her doorway and pointed to the floor.

“You’ve been painting on the carpet?” I asked, stepping carefully around the painted areas, and eyeing the pile of fabric markers lying nearby. Stifling the tiniest laugh, I examined her latest masterpiece, wondering how on Earth she got down-to and then up- off the floor.
“I couldn’t get the stains out so I decided to paint over them,” she said, with a smile beneath the oxygen tube, full of mischief and pride. And then she showed me how.

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14 thoughts on “Joy in an Old Friend

  1. Elaine Mansfield

    I love your dear friend’s spunk and the lessons she’s teaching about aging. I love your photo and story, too, and loved the first blog you did of her. Thank you for being such a good friend to someone who needs you in the ER.

    My disability is hidden because modern hearing aides are invisible. No one notices mine until they know me well because I read lips and take in various visual hints about meaning. Hearing loss is associated with being elderly, although I began losing my hearing in my late 40s. It’s felt shameful. It makes me demanding in relationship because I most enjoy quiet entertainment. I now tell everyone I’m close to deaf and don’t pretend that I hear when I don’t. Friends still forget, so I have to remind them again when they turn away from me and continue talking or send another great video or song they love. We gotta be spunky.

    Reply
    1. Robin Botie Post author

      Must develop spunk. Okay, Elaine. I take your advice on everything very seriously since you, always a few steps ahead of me, have accomplished so much of what I’m trying to do. “We gotta be spunky.” New mantra. Something else to aspire to as I discover, more and more, little glitches in my functioning. How fair is this? When we finally get to the age where we lose some of our former fears and inhibitions, we’re suddenly confronted by health issues, faltering bodies, fuzzy minds. When did we reach our peaks? When did we pass our peaks? How far will we slide down? Yeesh! Must work on spunky. Because without spunk and a little sense of humor, this could be a rough ride.

      Reply
  2. Gladys Botie

    My hat’s off to Annette! Tell her I said so — if she remembers me. I’m still dealing with the onset of the “rewards” of the golden years. I’m still fighting for control of my body in spite of the arthritis, spinal stenosis, scoliosis, osteoporosis, in addition to the questionable functioning of my hearing aids, and the more recent onset of COPD. I appreciate the offered help of people I encounter which I sometimes politely reject because I must learn how to help myself perform tasks when there’s no one around to assist me in the daily activity of my everyday life. I’m stubborn and am fighting like hell to accepting the limitations of the aging process and the diminishing abilities to perform the simple tasks I formerly did with ease. I try not become morose or to allow myself to fall into prolonged depressions. I keep myself busy doing what I am most accomplished to perform. I am at the computer a good part of the day performing as the trustee of an estate Trust for the benefit of a foreign beneficiary. I keep the bookkeeping records for this trust and my own financial records. I recently became the Treasurer of a charitable organization and keep up the computerized system of the financial activity. I am always working on a knitting project while I watch TV in the evenings. I was a former golfer and played at least 3 to 4 mornings each week — so I don’t have much outdoor time except for the household marketing. But I’m hanging in there and trying to find the joy of life.

    Reply
    1. Robin Botie Post author

      You’re dealing with a lot. It’s such a shame that when we finally have time to enjoy life and do some of the things we’ve put off for years as we worked and raised children, we discover our bodies and energies have all but disintegrated. I understand about needing to do those formerly simple tasks for yourself. You want to be independent for as long as you can be. And the things we spend our time with change, and keep changing. It sounds like you find joy in working, in still being able to contribute. I’m so happy for that. To be able to do something for an organization or a trust is so much better than inventing impossibly difficult, exhausting projects for oneself. (I seem to have a talent for this). But Mom, we still have food, glorious food. And that is one of the most incredible joys of life that we can still share. And I thank you so much for generously indulging in this pleasure with us.

      Reply
    1. Robin Botie Post author

      Cheers, Monica. She IS delightful. Especially after a good meal out in a restaurant. I just need to keep feeding her and it’s all delightful. But when we’re stuck in the emergency room and all they can offer her is a dried out turkey sandwich on white bread – she gets nasty. As would I, if I knew I’d be stuck eating Wonder Bread and green jello. We try to keep things delicious and delightful. Otherwise – well, it would not be pretty.

      Reply
    1. Robin Botie Post author

      Yes, she is. Was it you, Lynne, who I told I need to try being more abstract in my work? Now Annette is “inspiring” me to do a slim-down. Not sure how to accomplish this in Photoshop but I love challenges. So –

      Reply
  3. Annette Corth

    Robin
    Thanks for making me a star! Next time could you please slim me down a bit while you are at it? When is my next appearance in front of your magic camera? I do like the effect you have achieved. Keep working on it.

    Annette

    Reply
    1. Robin Botie Post author

      Annette, I recently told someone I needed to be more adventurous, more abstract in my work. And I’ve got an image in my head of a slimmed down, stretched thin – I don’t know what. So, if you would find joy in being elongated and extended in Photoshop, let’s talk. Not sure who this will be more painful for, you or me. And I’ve never done anything like that before. Sigh. Look what you’ve got me contemplating now. Yeesh!

      Reply
  4. Nancy Emerson

    Thanks Robin; I hope I can be like her if I grow up. Maybe that’s what I should do with the dining room chair seats.

    Reply
    1. Robin Botie Post author

      I know what you mean, Nancy. When we grow up – IF we grow up. My friend is really like a big spoiled child sometimes. Never really grew up. Maybe that’s not a bad thing anyway. As for the dining room chairs – I’m getting an image of people rising from your chairs with designs on their tushees. Better use colorfast paints or markers. Just thinking.

      Reply
  5. Lucy Bergstrom

    How wondrous that your friend, though disabled, can make riotous floor-graffiti to cover up the stains! She’s having fun with it, regardless of oxygen tubes and other limitations. I would hope I could retain the freshness of outlook and the joy of play that she obviously still has in bucketfuls. Your photo is priceless with its many arms!

    Reply
    1. Robin Botie Post author

      Thank yo so much, Lucy. She really does love making art and posing for photographs. And she’s a lot of fun in restaurants, and even in emergency rooms. I wasn’t sure she’d like the picture I did. But she has been sharing it with friends and is very excited about it. Next, she wants me to “slim her down a bit.” Must research Photoshop capabilities for stretching.

      Reply

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