After I returned from Japan, I kept threatening to write a book entitled “How to be tall at 5’2″. I wrote for a weekly entertainment magazine while in Okinawa and was always on the lookout for the zany, the odd, and/or the different to use in my humor column there. (I was going to compile those witty pieces into one volume with that title.)
The most obvious difference for me in Japan was the fact that at 5’ 2 ¾” I was tall!! Okay, let me rephrase that. I was taller than a large portion of the native population, men and women. All the cars were made for midgets over there, just as the roads were smaller, the furniture was smaller and even the trash trucks were smaller. I reveled in the feeling of being taller than someone (anyone).
Interestingly enough, the off-base housing we rented at first had been built post-WWII by the Japanese for the Americans and my kitchen cabinets were so high I had to use a stepstool to reach anything. The Japanese tend to assume all Americans all tall. HA!
I must admit, however, there really hasn’t been too many times when I wished I was taller. I’ve been fond of saying for many years now that the only time I wish I was taller was in the movie theater. I’ve been known to move three times to get a seat with no one in front of me so I can see the movie!
But now, among all the other changes I’ve undergone, I must tell you that I am getting tired of this tall world. Now I wouldn’t mind being taller. In my zeal to fit as much “stuff” in this new house, I have taken full advantage of the 10 ft. ceilings. I built bookcases and storage shelving from floor and desktop to ceiling in both my office and the hallway. (No, I still don’t have enough bookshelves.)
My new physical limitations have proven this to be, although an efficient use of space, a real problem for me. I can no longer look up. No, I don’t know what the problem is, but physical therapy didn’t fix it. I’m not talking a major problem here. If I was taller, it wouldn’t even be so evident (because I wouldn’t have to look up all the dang time).
Of course, I can’t paint ceilings and even have some difficulty getting to the top of the 10 ft. walls. I spent quite some time recently arranging books by author on some of the freestanding bookcases in the hall. Boy, was that a pain (literally) in the neck!
I’ve always found there are many things I can’t do, not because of a lack of strength, but a lack of a leverage. Sure I can pick it up, but lifting it (whatever “it” is) up to where it needs to be becomes a life-threatening situation (especially since I tend to spend inordinate amounts of time teetering on top of a ladder, a stool, a counter top, etc.). When one is short and not incredibly strong, one simply can’t easily do everything a tall person does.
Working on a computer has also been uncomfortable for years due to my short legs and increasing reliance on bifocals. At work I always feel like shrimp number one since adjustable chairs can’t be adjusted high enough for me. Here at the house I built a desktop 4″ lower than normal and so have found comfort for the first time ever at a computer.
But I can’t adjust the rest of the world so easily. I am always having difficulty reaching products on the higher shelves in stores. I frequently can’t see over the steering wheel and dash when cresting a hill in the car. (That was sheer terror while living in Tacoma, WA, years ago with those San Francisco-like hills). There’s even 2 spots on my dirt road out here where I simply can’t see!!
I have to fight the feelings of inferiority that occasionally come over me while standing and talking with tall people. I’m the shortest of all the 10 first cousins in my generation. Even my sister is taller than me!
And what is the point to this cataloging of “short” problems? (As usual, actually just to let me vent) No, no, really, this is all about aging. I’m not even 50, yet the physical limitations of aging are becoming evident to me. I’ve always been short and, no, it hasn’t mattered before.
I’ve decided that one’s life is defined by those words ‘can’ and ‘can’t’. Can’t is a four-letter word in my dictionary. I’ve spent years denying there wasn’t anything I can’t do. Now I have to look at my life as defined by can and can’t.
As a child and teenager, ‘can I’ was the key phrase. We are learning what is permissible and isn’t permissible in this big scary world. As parents, our job is to teach our children that they can. They can do whatever it takes to become happy, productive adults. Mama always told me I was just as good as any man—this was before feminism, remember—that I could….
As an adult, I learned over time that never saying ‘can’t’ was an important tool in getting along in this world. One can overcome almost anything as long as one says, “I can…”
In middle age we start running into limitations. All of sudden a 45-year-old man finds playing a casual game of football is not as easy as it used to be. A 42-year-old mother of 3 finds her attention to family and home has left her out of shape and dumpy. My husband has found that rotator cuff repairs remove most of the pain but limit activities. I find I’m no longer able to whip a house into shape like I used to before.
But, instead of just saying I can’t, perhaps it’s time to say “Can you help me with this? Can you fix this? Can you do this so I don’t have to?”
For it’s also time for another useful set of words, “Can I help you?” It’s time to use what I know for others.
‘Can I’, ‘I can’, ‘can you’, and back to ‘can I’. Funny how much life can be stuffed into those few words…