Life’s Little Lessons

If one is aware of one’s surroundings, life lessons abound.

A long time ago, I used to be sort of a Kelly girl. (I was actually a Welley girl — the independent temp agency was run by the Welley’s, a husband and wife team.) In those days, the economy was such that I could work one or two weeks a month at a few cents above minimum wage, pay all my bills for my own apartment and car and have money left over for fun. (Or for saving.) Those days, of course, are long gone — you can’t have much of a life if you make only slightly above minimum wage — but the lessons I learned are still with me.

jugglingFor example, one time I started a temporary job the same time a newly hired employee began a permanent job. She was nice, attractive, competent, but people didn’t particular cotton to her because she tried to fit in. Makes sense — that was going to be her life, and she wanted to make friends, and they weren’t ready for changes to the status quo. On the other hand, I had no stake in the job. I put in my time, was pleasant to everyone, but didn’t try to be friends with anyone. After a month or so, she was not accepted (wouldn’t be accepted for another few weeks), but amoeba-like, the group had absorbed me, the non-threatening one. Ever since, when joining a new group, I don’t try to insinuate myself into the group, but simply be there, be pleasant, and enjoy whatever fellowship comes my way.

I’ve been taking dance classes occasionally with a more advanced group at the studio, one that has been together a long time. I expected a bit of resistance when I was first invited to practice the dances I knew with them, but it didn’t happen. I never tried to be more than I was — a neophyte delighted to be dancing with more advanced students — and they seemed to accept me as such without even a hint of unwelcome. I’m sure if I had tried to push my weight around, things would have been different, but since all I want to do is dance, we’re doing fine.

The same thing happened with group I go walking with. I walked with different people at different times, sometimes talked, sometimes asked questions, listened, and somehow I ended up making a lot of friends.

Other lessons are harder to learn. I’ve always been a bit of a worrier. This tendency might be a genetic pre-disposition since my parents were both worriers and fidgeters, it might be learned behavior, or it might simply be . . . whatever. I’m trying to overcome that tendency to worry, though I will always be aware of potential snags in order to avoid them if possible, but I no longer wish to waste time fretting.

People worry about me and my future, which I appreciate, but I’m not too concerned. I’ll find a way to make money, or maybe money will find a way to me. More importantly, I’m preparing the best I can by learning not to worry. I see how my 97-year-old father frets about the most trivial things, and I don’t want to be like that when I get old. Don’t want to be like that now!

For example, last night he rang his emergency bell, and both my sister and I went running to see what the problem was. The emergency? He had two bottles of Ensure by his bed, one for 1:00 am and one for 7:00 am, but he didn’t have the one he would need sixteen hours later at l:00 pm. Apparently, he’d been lying awake stewing about it, and so in his mind, it became an emergency.

The whole Ensure thing is ridiculous anyway. There is no reason for him to be drinking so much Ensure at night, though he refuses to listen to my sister and me when we tell him that those extra hundreds of sugar calories are what’s keeping him awake. Still, since he is insistent on following his self-imposed schedule, I solved the problem. I now store all his Ensure in his room instead of in the pantry. (He can walk to the pantry, just refuses to do so.) He can set as many bottles as he wants by the side of his bed, and if by chance a bottle is not by his bed when he wants it, he only needs to walk across the room to get it. But it will be by the side of his bed. He will “ensure” that.

When I find myself fretting, I stop and take a deep breath. My worries are for the future, not this minute. And this very minute, I have nothing to fret about.

Lesson learned, perhaps.


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

20 Responses to “Life’s Little Lessons”

  1. rami ungar the writer Says:

    I’ll have to remember those life lessons. They sound like they could be useful someday.

  2. Paula Kaye Says:

    Seems like life for everyone would just be easier if you gave him the Ensure….but then I am not living your situation

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      We are giving it to him. The point is, he had plenty to last him well into the next day, so it wasn’t an emergency worth fretting over. He knew we restocked his bedside table first thing every day, but he kept worrying about it and worrying about it. If he was really that worried, he could have gotten it himself without waking up the whole household. He is still strong and perfectly capable of walking without faltering. In fact, today he went outside and halfway down the driveway for a newspaper but wouldn’t walk half that distance to get his ensure.

      All the cans are now in his bedroom, and he can do whatever he wants with it. But it still keeps him awake at night. Being awake makes him fret, and fretting makes him ring the bell and wake us up for non-emergencies, which makes us too exhausted to deal with real problems. Besides, it helps no one, especially the older person, when you do things for them they can do for themselves.

      The real point is I want to learn not to fret so I don’t get so consumed with anxieties over what, in the end, are trivial matters.

      • Pat Bertram Says:

        I probably sound harsh, but I’ve learned over the past few years of taking care of him that he won’t do things for himself unless pushed, and if I wear myself out doing things he is capable of doing, then I won’t be able to do the things he can’t do for himself.

        • Paula Kaye Says:

          I totally understood where you were coming from. I just went through all of this with my husband. I am also an RN so I’ve heard all the preaching of letting the elders do as much for themselves as they still can. It just wasn’t something I was going to cause anxiety for myself with. My heart and thoughts are with you Pat! Ultimately it is all your decision

          • Pat Bertram Says:

            I just don’t want to wear myself out with his cries of wolf . I’m afraid that when the wolf really does appear, I won’t have any interest in going to see what he wants. And I worry that if I do everything for him now when he doesn’t need it, I won’t care to do anything when he does. Even my patience has its limits.

  3. Wanda Says:

    You aren’t harsh at all. He sounds like he’s always been a bit of a tyrant. And you aren’t making him do things he’s incapable of doing. He needs to do what he can for himself and not wear out his caregivers. He’s amazing in that he’s still capable of making a fuss, cause all sorts of trouble, etc at his age.

    I’m proud of you that you’re trying to worry less. Worry doesn’t bring you money and truly, whatever is going to happen will happen whether you worry about it or not.

    Keep up the good work and keep kicking up your heels. It’s clear that it is as important as the air you breath.

  4. leesis Says:

    Hey Pat…great write..I loved what you learnt as a temp and how you translated that to your life thereon in so successfully.I wish I could find a outside thing that gave me as much joy as as dancing gives you.

    Just one thing about the Ensure. Its composition might be different there but here in Australia we (I’m a Registered Nurse of 30 years exp) recommend a limit of four cans to a 24 hour period due to the potential for potassium build up, in the elderly particularly. You might want to check with your doc at the next regular appointment. Mind you if your dad still insists on drinking it thats his choice.

    Loving what you’re doing for your dad Pat whatever his character and enjoying your writing even though I have less time to respond. xx

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      The doctor was the one who recommended four. Odd about the potassium buildup because he also has my father on klor-con. I’m still monitoring the situation. I can tell how much he drinks because of the empties (because of course it would never occur to take them to our recycle bin himself. Thanks for the words of caution and also your continued words of kindness.

      • Paula Kaye Says:

        My feeling is “so what if the potassium builds up” When you are as old as your dad, it won’t matter what it is that finally takes his life, does it?

        • leesis Says:

          With respect Paula its all about comfort and discomfort. Potassium build up can be distressing for folk as it causes irregular heartbeat and seriously increases the risk of falls due to ‘rubber legs’…particularly risky in the aged. I also wonder at what age we will personally think it doesn’t matter what takes our life.

  5. planetmallows Says:

    I’ve learned so much from this and from you. I’m actually waiting for the results of my internship in a new company and if I get hired, I’d like to keep in mind the “group behavior” you were talking about here. Growing up, I was always very passive, so I learned to take it up the notch by trying to put more effort into putting myself out there, tried to make friends as much as I can. But somehow, I can still see myself as someone who didn’t try too hard to fit in because like what you were saying, I also just welcomed anyone whom I felt really wanted to get to know me and not the other way around.

    One more thing, I find it funny that I see myself as a worrier too, yet somehow, I don’t feel like worrying too much about my future as much as my parents do. I guess I just believe in myself more than they do believe in me.

  6. Coco Ihle Says:

    I recently found this in an e-mail, “Worrying does not take away tomorrow’s TROUBLES; it takes away today’s PEACE.” You’ve already discovered this. Bravo.

  7. Yvette Cazalet Says:

    It’s psychological thai chi ☺️

    I’ve always had a dislike for ‘group’ dynamics and tend to watch from a distance where possible – when it’s not possible I do what you do – it’s an instinctive thing. I naturally don’t desire to become a part of a group for any length of time and certainly don’t need all focus on me so I just blend in for a while, seeing it as an opportunity to make some short term friends and then am happy to leave with nothing but a good feeling. Simple.

    Being drawn into conflict can be like a powerful magnet for some but, like with your father, you seem to have the gift for mental thai chi – you bend around the potential conflict therefore negating its power. Very insightful.

    Best wishes

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Psychological thai chi. Oooh, I like that term. I always tried to be like a willow, bending but not breaking, but I like the thai chi comparison better. I truly don’t like conflict, but didn’t realize I could negate its power. Thank you for giving me a different way of looking at the situation. Much to think about!

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