Be Nice

Lately, I’ve noticed that when I call customer service—whether about insurance claims, to straighten out a bill, or ask for assistance with my new cell phone—the representative often sounds harried when they pick up the phone. I’ve no doubt that, in this culture of impatience and nastiness, they get a lot of people who are angry or who don’t know how to communicate, so resort to anger. By the time I reach this human being, after going through the company’s phone tree and finding numerous dead-ends, I’m often angry too.

I have to remind myself that it’s not the fault of the service person and that they are probably just as stressed as I am by being the last resort for customers frustrated at having a hard time finding someone to help them. So I try my best to be civil, even nice, thanking them for helping me and exchanging pleasantries (how’s the weather there?). Gradually I can hear the rep’s voice change, become softer and more relaxed. By the time we conclude our transaction, we’re both wishing each other a nice day.

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Fear of Falling

I recently did a steep hike in snow that was deeper than I expected. I should have worn snowshoes instead of the snow cleats that weren’t quite enough to keep me from slipping where the incline was too sharp. I had hiked this trail—in all seasons—dozens of times before, yet I suddenly felt anxious, as if one wrong step and I would fall, possibly hurt myself or tumble down the slope.

I wasn’t in grave danger—the trees below would have stopped me from going too far. My fear, I think, came more from feeling that I could easily lose control. Last summer I took a rough tumble from an e-bike—my first attempt at riding an electric bike. I had some nasty bruising but nothing serious. What was scarier was that I couldn’t control the bike or my fall into a ditch.

Maybe I’m not as strong as I think I am or want to believe I am. It’s difficult to accept, because I’ve spent my whole life being physically active—bicycling, swimming, walking, snowshoeing and both downhill and cross-country skiing. For the most part I was confident in my body, except for those times when I accidentally landed on a black- diamond ski run and had to gingerly make my way down the steep slope.

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Yielding to Vanity

In this cold weather we’ve been having, I did something I promised myself I wouldn’t do. I sacrificed being warm in favor of looking fashionable—or at least not old. I was in the parking lot for a popular trail on a day when the temperatures were in the 30s—not too cold but the wind had a bite to it. I was mulling over whether to add a pair of nylon wind pants over my jeans for extra warmth.

But when I saw a group of young women in the parking lot, dressed in the current fashion of leggings, some with bare ankles and bare heads, I decided not to wear the baggy wind pants because that would brand me as old—not just old but possibly decrepit and, god forbid, silly.  The result was that I was cold on my walk around the frozen ponds, not dangerously cold but uncomfortable enough that I cut my walk short and denied myself the pleasure of being outside.

Because my head gets cold easily, I always wear hats, another indication that I’m old and no longer cool (if I ever was). I even had my hiking poles, which most people don’t need on these level trails, but my doctor advised me to use them because of neuropathy in my feet. Compared to these young people, who seemed unencumbered by layers of clothing and who exuded good health and freedom, I felt swaddled, like someone who couldn’t handle the elements.

I know that people get colder as they get older. In his 80s, my father wore long underwear all winter long, even though his apartment temperature was set at 70 or above, leaving my siblings and I complaining every time we visited. And younger people, especially children, seem to have a higher temperature setting, running around in shorts even in winter. 

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