Being cautious at our age: Wisdom or paranoia?October 26, 2015
As the weather here in Maine turns colder, I can’t help but think about the S-word: Snow. Last winter was a bitch, to put it bluntly. And it figures—it was the first winter in five years that Hubs and I didn’t head south to escape the worst of it.
The whole winter’s-on-its-way awareness also has me thinking about how my perception of things like bad weather has changed as I’ve gotten older. When I was in my twenties, thirties and even forties, a snowstorm was, at worst, a nuisance that might require adjusting my social plans.
Now, in my early sixties, an impending storm demands stocking up on essentials like food, wine, cat food, litter and toilet paper, ensuring we have enough heating oil and propane to run the generator if we lose power, and topping off the car’s gas tank. When did I get so responsible?
Winter weather also has me nervous about walking on snow and ice—something I never used to think twice about (as evidenced by the high-heeled boots I used to wear because looking good trumped practicality).
But since a couple of friends have taken nasty spills and broken bones, another friend’s mother died as a result of a head injury from a fall, and I have osteopenia (my bones are thinning), I wear sensible boots or shoes with decent soles even for a trip to the mailbox at the end of our snow-slicked driveway. I’ve even contemplated getting crampons (those metal plates with spikes that you attach to your boots for walking on ice)—the antithesis of fashionable.
And high winds during a blizzard—when I was younger, that just added to the drama of a storm. Now I worry about a tree falling on the house, and lie awake at night plotting how we’d round up the cats and get ourselves out—assuming we’re unscathed—and where the hell we’d go at the height of a freakin’ blizzard.
Other things that speak to my growing sense of cautiousness at this age:
- I’m nervous about driving after dark in unfamiliar areas because my night vision isn’t what it used to be
- Walking down stairs, I always hold onto the railing and watch where I’m stepping
- At the grocery store, I use the store-supplied antiseptic cloths to wipe down the shopping cart during cold and flu season (and yes, I get my flu shot every year)
- In this same vein, I’ve gotten more diligent about washing my hands after I’ve been out anywhere
Hubs admits to his own must-dos when it comes to being cautious, including:
- Double-checking that all the doors are locked before retiring for the night (remember the Jack Nicholson character Melvin in “As Good as It Gets” who’d flip the deadbolt back and forth five times in good OCD fashion? Just sayin’.)
- Asking me to do a tick-check every time he comes in from mowing the lawn (and no, that’s not a euphemism for foreplay—the incidence of Lyme disease in Maine has increased five-fold in the last decade)
I’m not saying it’s wrong to do any of these things; in fact, I believe that being cautious—as in thinking through what might happen if—is a sign of maturity and reason (and not being a paranoid old fart). Call it contingency planning or risk management, to borrow from the business world’s vernacular.
Conversely, there’s a certain obliviousness that accompanies youth, fueled by a sense of invincibility that emboldened us to take (often stupid) risks that most of us would never consider at this age. I cringe when I remember times I drove under the influence, for example, or slept with someone I barely knew. Or smoked cigarettes, for gawd’s sake. What the hell was I thinking?
Part of the wisdom we acquire as we get older is the realization that we’re definitely not invincible, and it makes sense to do what we can to improve our odds of living as calamity-free as possible for as long as possible.
Importantly, this doesn’t mean not ever taking risks (that approach, I’d wager, probably means you’re either cloistered or dead). I just try to avoid the unnecessary ones. Speaking of which, I’d better see about getting my flu shot soon…
I’m not risk averse;
I just like to mitigate
the downside. Smart, huh?
What about you? Are there things you find yourself doing—or avoiding—today that you never imagined when you were younger? Does it make you feel old—or wise?
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