Useless advice for the unheeding

Russell Wangersky
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Revelations come at strange times: for me, this one came in a grocery aisle, shortly after struggling to decide just when it was that hot, medium and mild salsa had been joined on the shelf by decidedly-trendier offerings like chipotle salsa and tomatillo salsa. (I see tomatillos at the grocery store sometimes, but never anyone buying them. It's easy to see why: they look for all the world like tiny, angry Gerber Baby heads that have successfully held their breath until they've turned green.)

But back to the revelation: looking down the lane in front of me, I realized there was not one single customer in view who was older than me.

That made me look around and realize that, taking everyone I'd seen in the store, fully 70 per cent of the people in the place were younger than me.

It was strangely staggering, even though it was only a simple fact.

Just an observation, I suppose, like the fact that, high up over the express lane at the Memorial Dominion, there is a crinkled and shrunken blue foil balloon caught up behind a piece of piping, or that, at the Arrivals area at the St. John's airport, someone has unfortunately let a "Welcome Grandma!" balloon escape, so that it has settled high against the ceiling glass, pointing out to Grandma, no doubt, how short she has become. (Maybe I spend too much time hopefully looking up. And maybe that's why I find political commentary so darned depressing.)

It struck me then that there's no effective guidebook for growing older. Or, if there is, I left it in its original plastic wrapping, went to the store to look for the Cole's Notes version and got distracted at the mall instead.

So, like it must be with most people, it was a surprise to realize that there are a bunch of things that having not only nearly stopped (children with homework), but, realistically, that are gone - at least as far as I'm concerned - forever.

And that made me want to write this quick little advice column: live. Laugh and love, too, of course, but don't think about putting things off for a time when things are less complicated.

It doesn't work.

Because things can change in a hurry: parents get sick or die, things like the wonder of a good night's sleep can flee for no discernable reason (I sleep like a baby. I really do. I wake up regularly at 3 a.m. or 4 a.m. or 4:30 and want to cry from the sheer frustration of being awake) and aches you never had before become your daily familiar. (The tooth-by-tooth zipper unzippering of straightening your back first thing in the morning, or the hollow, dull ache that means your gall bladder has decided to churn out enough pea gravel to pave a small road.)

Don't waste time waiting for a better time to do something.

I say this knowing just how useless it will probably end up being.

The thing is, there are two groups of people who might see this: those who will nod and quietly whisper "tell me something I don't already know," and those who should really take it to heart and start living to the fullest. But that second group, they won't even really think it applies to them.

They're too young and shiny to look far enough ahead - far enough ahead, that is, to see that point where they will inevitably be looking backwards.

Yes, I'm the 50-plus-year-old with the broccoli in my shopping basket and the somewhat cranky look on my face, shouldering past youthful you and muttering as I reach for the packaged chicken breasts.

What is it I'm saying under my breath?

I want to be shouting a hopeful "live now!" towards you, but I'm afraid the only thing you'll hear is something like "get off my lawn!"

Russell Wangersky is The Telegram's editorial page editor. he can be reached by email at

Organizations: The Telegram

Geographic location: St. John's

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Recent comments

  • Petertwo
    May 15, 2013 - 05:57

    Congrats on your fiftieth, Russel. Tomatillos are a quite nutritious high in vitamin C' with other beneficial vitamins and minerals, as we get older we need to pay more attention to our diet, but exercise is very important. Having twenty odd years on you, I can honestly say that exercise was something I neglected and I'm not as spry as I ought to be , or want to be. Writers tend to suffer more than most, sitting a lot, not that I'm a writer, more of a reader, but I do dabble. Just something to pass on from my experience, my wife is a few years behind me and walks a lot, she looks and acts like someone a lot younger. Life is all to short and once past fifty time seems to pass an awful lot faster.

  • Pierre Neary
    May 14, 2013 - 16:45

    Excellent column.

  • Herb Morrison
    May 14, 2013 - 15:52

    About forty years ago, Newfoundland writer and broadcaster Ron Pumphrey recorded an album intitled: "How to be happy and avoid having a nervous breakdown." In this album, Ron offered the following words of wisdom,concerning living life. "Yesterday is a cancelled cheque, tomorrow is a promisary note. Today, this day, is our only 'cash in hand.'" As I approach my mid-sixties, I see both the wisdom and the truth contained in this statement. Furthermore, as a Christian I am reminded that Jesus, in what is known as "The Lord's Prayer," taught people to pray "give us THIS day." Fact is, Mr. Wangersky,whether or not a person is too young, energetic, and full of both potential and life, to contemplate the possibility that life can be short or , in my own case, old enough to recognize the reality that life could end with our next breath, this day might well be all that we have left. Consequently we should indeed live THIS day to the fullest.

  • Nicholas Gardner
    May 14, 2013 - 13:06

    Well said, Russell! I particularly like your final line. It brought a genuine smile to my face. Cheers.