All life," said Damon Runyon in A Nice Price, "is six to five against." Once you've reached a certain age, or perhaps an uncertain age, this seems perfectly obvious: any road can throw you a curve you weren't expecting, and rather a lot of roads are strewn with pitfalls. The fearful among us, faced with these possibilities, will want to stay indoors, avoiding the trip entirely; but that option has disadvantages of its own, especially if your definition of "life" involves anything more than mere subsistence.
A few weeks back, I took a fall: not a pitfall, but a failure of the structure of one leg to maintain a position for a period long enough to empty a two-thirds-full grocery cart. It's not that I'd never stumbled before, but this particular instance hurt more than usual and refused to go away on schedule. Muscle strain, I decided. The obvious thing to do would be to go to the doctor and get a note for several days off and a script for bottle of better-than-average pain pills. But given the complete and utter inertia that sets in when I have several unexpected days off, I reasoned that I would, as the athletes say, walk it off. And yes, it was painful for a while; then it was less so, and then even less. Switching away from my usual shoe style helped, since it forced me into a different angle when walking; figuring that those other shoes were just too worn out to provide support anymore, I went out in search of new ones. This effort was met with a new obstacle: apparently about 11 people on earth wear my size, enough to justify making the shoes but not enough to justify shipping a pair to every single store. So while the file on this incident is still technically open, I think I did the right thing. Financially, it's a wash; I'd have given up some overtime pay and a couple of medical copays had I stayed home, but the new shoes, when they arrive, will cost me $135. So either way, I'm out a smallish three-digit sum.
"Yeah, you were lucky," you might say. Not so much. I knew this incident was going to cost me something pretty much anything worth calling an incident will cost me something and not all costs are financial; I opted for what I thought would be the solution with the fewest negative consequences. (Six to five against, right?) If I should wake up some morning and find it impossible to climb out of bed, well, maybe I should have gone the other way, but I'll worry about that when it happens, and besides, it could be something entirely different causing this new distress; cell-replication speeds notwithstanding, all my 2000 body parts are about the same age and in the same state of disrepair.
Still, this isn't anything like a declaration that my judgment is all that good: if I'd never done anything wrong, I'd never have come up with six million words to clutter up the World Wide Web. And I do have one toughie coming up in four years: on my 66th birthday, I can retire, says the Social Security handout, with "full benefits," by which is presumably meant "not subject to the mandatory reductions inflicted on people who jump the gun earlier." Temerity Funds (not its real name), keepers of my 401(k), have been in alarmist mode of late, pointing out that I don't have anywhere near the millions it takes to retire comfortably, and that I would have to stash away something like $70,000 a year for the next few years to give myself a fighting chance. Since I don't even make $70,000 a year, this is clearly not going to happen. But I've already done some of the math, and if I touch none of the 401(k) at all, the combination of Social Security and an old defined-benefit pension that dates back three decades and change should yield me a monthly income about 15-20 percent in excess of the austerity budget I lived on earlier this decade. I haven't made this call yet it's possible that it may be made for me by further deterioration of my physical structure but I'm prepared to live with the consequences of however I decide.
If nothing else, this puts me one rung above the ne'er-do-wells who will spend $500 at the parts counter trying to fix what's wrong with their cars, rather than spend $120 on a proper diagnosis from an actual repair shop. These people are at a level of denial I can barely imagine. I'm perfectly capable of denial denial is a quintessential part of procrastination, and I'd be a really serious procrastinator if I had the time to devote to it but there are times when I am grateful for the opportunity to feel superior to someone.
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Copyright © 2015 by Charles G. Hill