Tom Stafford
Photo: Staff Writer
Photo: Staff Writer

Stafford: A lesson in senior discounts (and not the usual kind)

His words were balled up into a sentence the way fingers ball up into a fist.

It was a verbal punch, to be sure — a quick, clean jab.

It also turned out to be stiff enough that I half-thought my always even-tempered friend was being rude to me.

Belatedly realizing what was coming, my eyes found his mouth as he spoke the final word, and, at the moment of impact, it hit me: Rudeness clearly was behind his punch and I was the one who had been rude.

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We’ll get to the details in a minute.

First, I want to explain why I’m bringing this to you on a Sunday morning: Today’s lesson is about temptation.

As I’ve mentioned in column before, I’ve watched senior citizens for years. I’ve watched how they’ve handled themselves and listened to what they’ve said. I’ve tried to figure out which of them is doing the right or encouraging thing and which the wrong or discouraging thing — all in trying to identify the people who could be my role model for older age, in identifying whose example I should follow.

To make my judgments of seniors more fair and balanced, I have come to use the same kind of multiplier used in diving and gymnastics competitions: degree of difficulty. In this case, that means the degree of difficulty the seniors are facing at the time. If their circumstances are trying, I award a senior discount: The benefit of the doubt. The size of the discount ranges somewhere between the questions, “What should have been done” and “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”

Along the way, I’ve spotted the problem I think I’m most likely to fall prey to as I get closer to qualifying for Medicare. Both disappointingly and luckily, this temptation is my old friend: A tendency to award myself a discount for my behavior when I should instead wake up and take responsibility for it.

The only thing that has changed is that it’s now called a senior discount.

But I do think circumstances make it an easier scam for seniors to fall for.

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For one, there is the liberating sense of freedom many feel in their retirement years. There is less regimentation, less need to live as though an annual review is the most powerful tool of judgment. That comes with the realization that we might have reached a point at which we’re no longer taking a report card home at the end of each grading period.

This also can bring with it a temptation. Heady with that freedom, we can throw away the filters that our mind has always used to keep us from saying what we shouldn’t say. The temptation to do so is all the stronger because when we do say something hurtful we can defend it in the name of honesty — even when we know that’s nothing more than justification to take the chains off the pit bulls of our spite.

There are those habits we cannot seem to fix as we age. I’ve lost and misplaced things throughout my life and don’t expect to be able to improve that aspect of myself. I don’t expect to become a handyman.

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But, in recent years I have suspected that I talk over people too much in conversation and that it’s particularly an issue when I’m over-caffeinated. I’ve noticed people politely going silent or wincing. But I haven’t done anything to correct myself.

Fortunately, I’ve found something to counterbalance a tendency to grant myself a senior discount. For in addition to my long acquaintance with temptation, I enjoy a long acquaintance with friends — friends who know how to ball up words into a sentence like fingers into a fist and deliver a stiff, clean jab at just the right time.

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