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ARE WE EVER
OLD ENOUGH
TO KNOW BETTER?

By Frank Kaiser

One of the great mysteries of life is why we continue to err right up to the point where we eventually get dying right.

In a perfect world, wouldn't life be all about making mistakes until you learn not to make them?

Just this morning, I made the same silly mistake I've made maybe two dozen times now. Without leaving me open to the ridicule I deserve, let's just say it involved a computer and a too-quick-on-the-trigger send button.

And that wasn't my only stupid mistake today.

Here I am, age 72 (going on 110 or 40, depending on how the weather treats my arthritis) and I'm still stumbling through life, often making the same mistakes I made just the day before.

Know what I mean?

It's the little things that trip me up. Yesterday, I stubbed my toe on a new CD rack in the living room. No biggie. Except that I've stubbed that same toe on that same rack at least four times now.

Whatever happened to that accumulation of learning known as wisdom? Or the "stumble to prevent a fall" theory? Or, "Once burned, twice something-or-other?"

At my age, perhaps the operable cliché is, "You can't teach an old dog new tricks." But, how much of a trick is it, really, to avoid banging one's toe for the fifth time?

Little wonder we geezers are laughingstocks.

We stumble around banging into things. We lose our glasses while they're still on our heads. We can't even recall whether we've already seen a re-run of Law and Order.

As anyone in a 12-step program can tell you, making the same mistake twice expecting different results is insanity. Welcome to My Insane Life.

This embarrassing state of affairs led my buddy, J.C., to opine, "Everyone makes mistakes. But when your eraser wears out before your pencil, you're way overdoing it."

J.C. himself tends to overdo, but does not readily admit to it. He refers to his five failed marriages as "learning experiences." And when he lost money on the same stock six times in two years, he chalked the failures off as "educational opportunities." But then, knowing J.C., he could make mistakes in his sleep.

Folks say it's never too late to turn over a new leaf. But sometimes that old leaf is so comfortable, so familiar, that we'd rather not mess with it.

Sink a Boat, Twice in Same Spot?

Take Don, my friend in Key West. Marketers would call him an "early adapter." He's always buying the newest gadget in hope of avoiding mistakes others make. Yet all his gizmos haven't saved him from sinking his sailboat. Twice. In the same place.

"Two different coral heads," he's quick to point out. Don's 75, and very likely to sink again. Deep down, I think he enjoys sinking. Perhaps the adrenaline rush makes him feel young again.

So the question remains: Are we ever old enough to know better?

The outspoken Tallulah Bankhead had it right when she said, ”If I had to live my life again, I'd make the same mistakes, only sooner.“

Here's my theory: Making mistakes is basic to the human condition. The primary lesson is not so much to avoid similar actions in similar situations. Instead, attack the source. Never take mistakes seriously.

Next time you stub your toe, just say "Ouch!" and let it go. That's what I plan to do. I'll be darned if I'll move the CD rack out of the way.

Call me insane, but I like it exactly where it is.

Copyright © 2008—Frank Kaiser


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