38 Special

Today is Kish’s and my 38th wedding anniversary.  We were supposed to be in Austin, Texas to celebrate with Richard and Julianne and watch a performance of the Austin Symphony Orchestra, but of course COVID-19 quashed those plans.  It will be our first anniversary since the kids were little that we haven’t celebrated by going out to dinner or to some musical performance.

number-38_2227-93438 is one of those random numbers that wouldn’t seem very special by itself.  It’s not a prime number, or a multiple of 10, or even a multiple of 5.  It’s not one of those anniversary years that’s supposed to be marked by a gift of silver or china or some other substance.  And yet, I’m quite sure we’ll always view number 38 as very special — the year we celebrated our anniversary at home in German Village by direct order of Ohio’s Governor as part of the effort to flatten the coronavirus curve.  In fact, I’d wager that we’ll carry around more vivid memories of this anniversary, and the days directly surrounding it, than any other.

I’m very thankful and grateful that I’ve got such a wonderful person to share our snug little shelter in place during this terrible global pandemic.  We’ve developed new routines during this shut-in period, and I’ve really enjoyed our lunchtime walks together to get our daily allotment of permitted exercise while maintaining social distance from everyone else.

We never could have imagined, when we got married during the early years of the Reagan Administration amidst snow flurried in Vermilion, Ohio, that 38 years later we’d be dealing with such issues.  But that’s life’s unpredictability for you — and also a good reason to find that right, special someone to face the fates with you.

The Wisdom Of The Aged

When you’ve been around the block a few times, the experience gives you perspective.  Whether it’s a useful perspective or not is really up to you — but, inevitably, you draw upon your own life to inform your decisions going forward.  For most of us, at least, the so-called “wisdom of the aged” isn’t really wisdom at all — it’s just being able to learn from past mistakes.

I thought about this when I ran across this article about one person’s thoughts about the biggest wastes of time in their lives.  They are good ones — like trying to make bad relationships work, or dwelling on your mistakes and shortcomings — but all of the time-wasters, by definition, are drawn from the writer’s own personal experience.  The key is having the self-awareness to identify something that you’ve done as a waste of time in the first place, and the ability to learn from it and adapt your practices going forward, rather than stubbornly repeating the same mistakes over and over again.

And often the lesson isn’t something you can learn by reading or hearing about it — you’ve got to experience it yourself to really have the lesson sink in and leave a mark.  How many people is the history of humankind have heard an older person counsel them about ending a job or relationship that just isn’t working and then rationalized away the advice by concluding that they and their circumstances were different?  The best life lessons are those you learn yourself.

What would be the biggest time-wasters for me?  To the extent anyone cares, there are two I would put on my list.  One would be trying to follow the crowd and do what other people thought people in my circumstances should be doing — whether it is consciously trying to like music or TV shows or movies that just aren’t clicking for me, or “getting involved” in a bunch of activities because general “involvement” is good.  Once I decided to just trust myself and go with what I liked, I eliminated a lot of waste motion. 

And the other would be worrying — really worrying — about things you can’t control, either because they are far beyond your pay grade or because they are in someone else’s hands.  Focusing on things that you can actually affect dramatically shortens the to-do list to things that matter, where you can personally make a difference and move the needle.  That’s a life lesson, incidentally, that I’m drawing on right now.

 

Those Little Routines

Over the years I’ve always used some kind of coin container.  When I was in college, I used a large glass jar as the repository for pocket change — until one day the glass broke from the accumulated weight of the coins, and I switched to a smaller jar.  I’ve also used metal cans.  Now I use a nice wooden box that Kish got me long ago.

But whether the container is glass, or metal, or wood, the concept is the same:  when you come home, you empty your pockets.  in my case, the house keys go on the top of the dresser, the cell phone gets set down on the cordless charger contraption, and any loose change goes into the coin box.  It’s one of the little organizing principles that many of us use to order our lives and establish our small, personal routines.  Those little routines can add comforting structure to your day, and also mean you don’t have to go tearing the house apart looking for your keys and phone and glasses every morning.

Years ago, the change containers used to fill up a lot more quickly, because I would always pay for my lunches and small purchases with cash, and bringing home change was a nightly occurrence.  Now that using a payment card has become my most common form of payment, I often end the work day with no change at all — but habit makes me check my pockets for change, just the same.  The reduction of change in our lives is another simple sign that the economy is changing, and our personal practices are changing along with it.

But I still pay for some things with cash, and even if it takes longer than before, the change box gets filled.  Last night I noticed that the box is filled, again, so it’s time to empty it out, fill up the old-fashioned paper coin sleeves, and take them to the bank to add another $34 to the account and feel the satisfaction of saving.  That’s what will be on the schedule for tonight, and I’m kind of looking forward to it.

 

Sock Suck

Socks are, for the most part, the article of clothing that is most likely to be taken for granted. Although a few Beau Brummells have tried to turn the sock into a colorful fashion accessory, for most men, and women too, the humble sock is a purely functional item. Socks are donned, then immediately covered by shoes, and after that happens we forget about them, They warm the foot, serve as an essential layer between foot and shoe so you don’t get a blister, soak up the smells feet are prone to produce, and are promptly tossed into the laundry basket at the end of the day without a second thought.

But when a sock fails of its essential purpose and acts in a way that demands attention, you’ve got a problem. And that’s what has happened with these “anklet” socks Kish got me to wear on my morning walks.

They go on just fine. But as soon as I start walking, the top of the sock inevitably departs the ankle region and starts inching down to the heel. I detect its progress, and suddenly I’m focused on my sock movement and not on my walk. A few more steps and the sock successfully rounds the heel and heads down to its preferred destination around the ball of the foot. By the the of my walk the Achilles tendon and heel are left wholly unprotected and the sock is bunched up and wadded around the tip of the foot, slides off when I remove my shoe, and then has to be fished out from deep within the shoe.

I don’t know if there is something weird about my walking gait or foot movement that causes this problem, but I do know that socks aren’t supposed to behave in this fashion. At least, my other socks don’t. And when a sock acts out, it’s really annoying. So these socks are going to be donated to Goodwill, where hopefully someone will have better luck with them.

Because life is too short to have socks that suck.

A Sign Enough

The Third Street Secret Signer has struck again, but this time the resulting message is a bit more cryptic — thanks to some bad luck.

For the first time, the TSSS has used both sides of the bridge, east and west. (The east side, which has no sidewalk, was previously functionally inaccessible because of the constant flow of traffic speeding onto the 70/71 on ramp, but that ramp is now closed.) The east side sign reads “You Are Enough,” which is apparently the title of a recent book for women. On the west side, which is the TSSS’ previously preferred sign-posting location, the TSSS had put a sign reading “You Are Valuable,” but by the time I walked home last night that sign had fallen down and lay crumpled on the sidewalk. I’m hoping the sign was just blown down, rather than being pulled down by some Grinchy jerk who is messing with the public positivity campaign of a Good Samaritan.

Even with the west side sign fall, I’m sure I’m not alone in appreciating another nice gesture by the TSSS. Hopefully s/he will take the remaining sign to heart and realize that their single sign effort is “enough” to give us a holiday boost heading into Thanksgiving.

Heeding The Call Of The Water

Here’s something to remember the next time you are planning a vacation or an extended holiday:  being near the water is good for you.  In fact, it’s really good for you.  Whether it’s ocean, lake, pond, river, or stream, proximity to water has measurable benefits for people — physically, mentally, and emotionally.

img_8827An increasing body of scientific and medical evidence confirms the therapeutic effects of “blue spaces” and the state of “outdoor wellbeing.”  This won’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s taken a beach vacation or gone on a fishing trip.  The presence of the water tends to draw people outside, where they get more sunshine and enjoy the benefits of vitamin D.  They get more exercise because they are in attractive physical locations that motivate them to walk the beach or hike along the lakefront.  The sounds of ocean surf or running streams are calming.  The combination of exercise, fresh air, and pleasant sounds help visitors to get a good night’s sleep.

But there’s more to it.  Water tends to have a curious effect on the human psyche — a kind of positive vibe that is mentally refreshing and restoring.  Studies have consistently shown that people who are near water regularly maintain a better mood, feel less stress, and describe themselves as happier than inlanders.  Maybe it’s the sights, maybe it’s the sounds, maybe it’s the smells . . . or maybe it’s that it all works in combination to make people near water a bit dreamier, a bit more contemplative, and a bit more reflective.  Perhaps when you’re looking out over a vast ocean your problems just seem a lot smaller and therefore more manageable.

None of this is new — we’ve just forgotten it.  In the first chapter of Moby Dick, published in 1851, Herman Melville’s character Ishmael writes:  “If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me.”  But, as Melville notes, it’s not just the ocean that humans find attractive — it’s water, period.  He writes:

“Once more. Say you are in the country; in some high land of lakes. Take almost any path you please, and ten to one it carries you down in a dale, and leaves you there by a pool in the stream. There is magic in it. Let the most absent-minded of men be plunged in his deepest reveries—stand that man on his legs, set his feet a-going, and he will infallibly lead you to water, if water there be in all that region. Should you ever be athirst in the great American desert, try this experiment, if your caravan happen to be supplied with a metaphysical professor. Yes, as every one knows, meditation and water are wedded for ever.”

So, you want to feel better?  Get out your calendar and plan a trip that allows you to answer the call of the water.

Feel-Good Flowerpot

In Columbus, our mysterious messenger continues to distribute upbeat thoughts here and there in the downtown area. I noticed this pendant of purple positivity in one of the large concrete flowerpots in front of Mitchell’s Steakhouse as I was navigating through the flowerpots and pedestrian traffic on my way home this week.

What’s really going on here, with all of these uplifting messages?  Are we talking about one devotee of Norman Vincent Peale, or are we in a cascade effect where other people have caught the bug and decided to post some happy thoughts around town?  And why have they decided that Columbus should be the target for these relentless positive messages — as opposed to, say, Washington, D.C.?

Can a brightly colored stone with an inspirational thought in a downtown flowerpot make a difference?  Beats me!  But it can’t hurt, and it’s nice to know that somebody out there cares enough about the rest of us to make the attempt.