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Risk And Survival: The Great Importance Of Adapting As We Age

The Risk Of Solo Responsibility

Way back when, I was writing a software suite for the Federal Intermediate Credit Bank. They were the federal agency that backed agricultural loans. The software was written in assembly language, as that and BASIC were about the only languages available for the first microcomputers. This was before the emergence of other high level languages like C and well before Excel and all the other software tools we take for granted these days.

Like most low level programs, the assembly program was a tangled mess of spaghetti code that is extremely difficult to understand if you didn’t write it – and even hard to manage even if you DID write it.

I was the sole culprit responsible for its creation.

We had a progress meeting in Austin, Texas with the federal representatives, during which the head fed said, “This looks really good and is something we can readily use and need, but what happens if you get run over by a potato truck?”

We were in Austin and the nearest semi loaded down with potatoes was probably in Idaho 1500 miles away.  Since then, “Deadly Potato Trucks” has been a buzz phrase for any highly improbable catastrophic event.

We take risks every day. We speed along in our vehicles passing a few feet from other vehicles speeding along in the opposite direction. We face health hazards from disease, age, and lifestyle. We even face a broken neck and death just stepping in and out of a shower. Life is full of risk.

When we stop to think about it, we recognize the dangers we face – at least we think about the most likely ones. But in Austin, Texas, who the hell worries about Deadly Potato Trucks? The fact that I’m 72 while I’m writing this is clear evidence that the potato truck with my name on it hasn’t found me yet. But – the trucks are still out there – waiting.

So what do we do? Do we crawl into our insulated caves, never venturing out into the wilds where the potato trucks roam? Do we shut our lives down? I know people that have done that very thing – hiding out – avoiding risk, but living no life as they wait to die.

Do we let the words from 1966 as written by Stephen Stills and played by Buffalo Springfield in For What It’s Worth haunt the rest of our days?

Paranoia strikes deep

Into your life it will creep

It starts when you’re always afraid

Take a look at the masthead at the top of the page – “Men over 50.” If you are reading this you likely fall into that category. So, what do we 50+ guys do to avoid the potato trucks?

To survive, we adapt!

The Many Risks I Took And Survived

I’m 72, not 22. Many of the things I did back then are long behind me. I spent a lot of time going mano a mano against the potato trucks. No one, least of all me, thought I’d ever make it to 30. I blew a front right tire as I slowed down to 185. I still don’t know how many times my car spun around, but some how it stayed upright and atop the super slab.

I blew the front tire on a bicycle while racing through traffic. I similarly don’t know how many times the bike, me, and the pavement traded places, but I woke up 36 hours later in the hospital – and miraculously didn’t get run over.

I was driving in a blinding thunderstorm and stopped as the traffic light turned red – three seconds before a tornado “exploded” the service station across the street. If the light had been green I’d have driven into the tornado.

I spent 45 minutes hanging upside down off a two story roof, looking at the concrete patio below me, waiting for the fire department to arrive to get me down and untangled from the broken antenna guy wires wrapped around my ankles. That was a LONG 45 minutes.

The list goes on – motorcycles, race cars, airplanes, boats, skiing, diving, climbing, and not to mention all the “thrills” while wearing a military uniform.

The Importance Of Adapting

I made it past thirty and into my seventh decade by adapting. It’s not just that I don’t do the crazy things anymore, it’s that I’ve learned to be cautious and to take reasonable care.

I can’t remember the last time I intentionally drove over the speed limit – decades at least. I don’t just quickly glance left and right at an intersection – I consciously look left, right, left, right, and keep watching as I make my turn. I don’t run down stairs – I walk – and keep a hand on the rail. I watch where I put my feet, careful of slippery surfaces and throw rugs.  I get in and out of the shower with a hand on something solid.

Caution Vs. Paranoia

Have I become paranoid? Someone might think so, but I feel that I’ve just adapted my habits to be more cautious. I don’t make anymore 200+ mile per hour banzai runs, but I still feel comfortable driving. And – I won’t be driving if I don’t feel comfortable doing it.

I don’t fly solo anymore – there is always another pilot in the other seat that can get the aircraft back on the ground – not just for my benefit but for whoever is in back. There’s no more sheer cliffs with nothing but a rosin bag – I’m careful even on ladders and step stools.  I’ll still toss a baseball, football, or basketball around, but actually playing is no more.  As philosopher Jimmy Buffet laments in Growing Older But Not Up, “These brittle bones don’t bend.”

However, he also cautions later in the song, “I’d rather die while I’m living than live while I’m dead.”  That line gives me a pause as I consider the things I’ll never do again in my new adapted cautious lifestyle. On reflection, however, I still think I’m “living” as I’ve done many of the things I wanted to do and I still carry those memories.

I’ve already climbed the mountains, many mountains, and stared out hundreds of miles. I don’t need to do it again. I’ve jumped out of airplanes – and don’t need to do it again. I’ve glided above pristine reefs, fascinated by the abundance and variety of sea life, while keeping a watchful eye on some of the predatory denizens of the deep.

I’ve been to most of the places I wanted to go – and to a lot, thank God, that I’ll never set foot in again. I don’t need to go back – particularly when so many of my old favorites have either changed so much or in some cases don’t even exist anymore.

The Memories Will Suffice

Maybe it’s because my “bucket list” is pretty short. I’m comfortable with where I am and what I’ve done. I have the memories and don’t need to recreate the events. I’m fortunate to be both physically and mentally active – and I work at staying that way. I’m still out “in the wild where the potato trucks roam” but I feel that I’ve at least cut down on the number of trucks lurking in the shadows.

All of us have safety decisions to make – big decisions at times, but minor ones made continuously every day. How we approach those decisions of what to do and how to do it can seriously affect our ability to dodge the ever lurking deadly potato trucks.  We don’t need to give up on new and fun and exciting experiences, but we do need to evaluate the risks and to take reasonable precautions.

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Reeves Motal
Reeves Motal
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