Avoiding Trouble!

Well, that’s something most of us would like to do, avoid trouble!  I say most, because there are those to whom conflict and taking chances are an accepted and exciting part of life.  This is particularly common among the very young – we’ve all been there, taking chances that might have ended tragically.  For some it has been a chosen way of life, while for others avoidance of conflict was not an option.  Some survived, some didn’t.

If we’re still around then we obviously didn’t get killed in the process, but there were times we may have come pretty close and escaped more through luck than judgment.  As we get older, most of us become a little more careful, either because we have gained a little more common sense or because we discovered somewhere along the line that the law has some pretty tough penalties for certain transgressions.  Somehow, though, most of us here today have muddled through.  We have managed to survive through to senior status despite the perils from without, and from the perils of personal stupidity within.

But just when we are congratulating ourselves on having made it this far, things start to fall apart; not from outside threats necessarily, or even as the result of past life styles.  We may have smartened up many years ago and quit smoking, or cut out excessive drinking etc.  Apparently, there are even some among us who have lived exemplary lives.  (I’m certainly not one of them, but I have heard rumours that such people exist!)  Still, exemplary or not, we seniors run up against a mounting list of cracks in our superstructure the older we get.  It’s called aging.  It starts off with minor aches and pains, but then we start having back problems, hearing problems, forgetfulness etc.  I guess it goes with the territory.  You made it this far, but somehow you no longer seem to be able to move around as well anymore or do the things you once did with ease.  Either way it is often unfair, and always hard to accept.

And that is where the need to avoid trouble comes into the picture!  It is not just a question of staying out of trouble with outsiders or the police department!  It’s a question of staying out of trouble personally.  It’s a bit like having an old car with no chance of replacing it with a new one.  You have to keep the old bod’ running as best you can, because the best you can hope for is a new spare part here and there.  It doesn’t matter how much money you have, you can’t get a new body to carry you around!  Some health problems are beyond our control, but I’m thinking here of avoiding trouble in the form of accidents.  (You might be interested to know that in the British Army, sunburn was considered to be a “self-inflicted wound”, and therefore subject to discipline.  That’s enough to burn you up, right there!)

The first thing we need do is acknowledge our present limitations, and realize that the problem will increase as the senior years go by.  Being very conscious of this reality, we can take the first step in dealing with it.  It means rethinking a lot of things that our mind and body handled almost automatically when we were younger.  We have to develop a mental attitude that pays far more attention to safety.

What do I mean by safety?  Well, first of all there is a need to take greater care of our bodily safety while realizing that the mind itself, which has to do all this thinking, is itself slowing down.  It has to be reminded not to bite off more than it can chew, as the saying goes.  Don’t try to do too much!  If you are ending up exhausted at the end of a shopping trip, working in the garden or cleaning up nowadays, you are probably trying to do too much.  The body isn’t as resilient as it once was, and like that old car your body needs nursing; push it too hard and you end up with a breakdown of one kind or another.

There’s an old biblical saying, “The spirit is strong, but the flesh is weak!”  It was said in a different context, but it fits the problems facing seniors.  We find it very difficult to accept our limitations and try to carry on as though we were still in our thirties.   Often the spirit is still right there, struggling to make itself heard, but the body just can’t keep up anymore.  The result can be falls, burns, forgetting to turn off that stove element that may result in a fire, or the dangers that develop out of frustration itself.   If you can get the mind to understand this then you can try to do something about it, but awareness and acceptance of the changes we are going through is a necessary first step in staying out of trouble.

If we can get over that hurdle, the second thing that comes to mind is the need to avoid trouble when using utensils and tools of any kind.  Many kitchen utensils are necessarily sharp, and deserve special attention.  Trying to carry things up or down stairs can be very dangerous.  Doing it with both hands full is almost certain to end up in a fall one day.  Old square-rigger sailors followed the rule, “one hand for the ship and one hand for yourself!”  I always keep that in mind when going up and down stairs, and keep one hand on the rail.

And be careful with that kettle!  Not only are you dealing with hot water which can scald, but you can also scald yourself accidentally by reaching over and passing your hand or arm through the steam of a boiling kettle.  Even touching the side of it can make you jump!  Believe me, I know!  I haven’t scalded myself with hot water but I have passed my hand through the scalding steam, and I have touched the outside of a hot kettle!

The stove is another area that demands a lot of respect for obvious reasons.  Draining a pot of potatoes takes a lot more care now that we are older.  I like to make sure the path to the sink is clear before I even lift the pot.  And how many times have we carried a hot dish carefully to the table but forgot to turn off the stove element.  Again, working with the oven requires particular care and attention.  At our house, we make sure hot dishes are only removed from a hot oven by the strongest one of the two.  (If there is any doubt as to who that is, have a wrestling match somewhere far away from the kitchen; but decide who it is and then stick to it!)

When using the indoor electric grill we have found that it is so easy to carry the yummy food off to the table and forget to pull the plug out of the socket!   I used it one evening around 6 pm to make a lovely grilled cheese and forgot to pull the plug.  Around midnight, I was in the kitchen and heard this slight clicking sound at regular intervals.  My hearing being what it is, it took a while before I realized it was the grill clicking on and off as it continually reached grilling temperature – hour after hour, after hour.

Oh, and by the way, at meals times take a moment to check the oven, the toaster oven and the grill to see if anything has been left behind.  Many a time, we have found a yam or sweet potato in the toaster oven the following morning!  And… our microwave beeps forever if one forgets to take out that reheated cup of coffee.  My hearing is completely gone in the high frequencies so I can stand right there next to it and not hear a sound.  (Luckily for me, my wife can, although the discovery may come with a lecture!)

It is important for couples to divide up the household chores according to ability.  There is no longer any such thing as a man’s work or a woman’s work!  Each of us needs to pick up the responsibility for jobs which we can do easier or more safely than our partner.  Arthritis can make peeling potatoes or using a sharp knife to cut vegetables difficult, dangerous or downright impossible.  Don’t wait for your partner’s blood to flow before stepping up and taking over that responsibility.  Remind each other when it’s “tablet time”.  It is so easy to forget to take them when we should and a reminder can avert unstable blood pressures that are just asking for added trouble, especially in the kitchen when dinner is being prepared.

Finally, learn to laugh at it all!  Whatever your age, if you are senior you have already been fortunate enough to have lived a long life.  (There are those, though, who haven’t been as fortunate. Don’t forget them!)  Keep as positive an attitude as you can, whatever your lot; being a senior is the ultimate test of your sense of humour!

Do all you can to stay out of trouble by being aware and being careful, but have fun in the process.  The senior years can be lived with a smile if you remember all you have learned along life’s way.  Above all, it is a time to be gracious!  It is a time to recognize the diversity of this world and to realize that your way is not the only way that one’s fellow man can lead a happy life.  It is a time to realize that the world has changed during your lifetime; some changes have been for the better and some changes have been for the worse.  But it is no longer left to you to change the world; that function has been taken over by a younger generation.   Like it or not, you have been retired!

You need to recognize all this, and to concentrate your energies on optimizing your retirement years as safely as you can, with a smile!  It is a personal matter.

I know of no better motto than that of the Boy Scouts youth organization, “Be prepared”.

Gerry Wood, Oct 30, 2015