Octo Observations: Speed Bumps

Many neighborhoods feature speed bumps that stretch across the roads. Their purpose is to slow down cars. A good thing, especially when  little children are playing or folks are walking or jogging along the side of the street. Our retirement facility uses them, too, along with  speed limit signs marked 19 ½ mph or 24 ½ mph.  A good giggle to see ½ added! Probably an attempt to attract special attention. One day recently I was stopped twice by a security guard, and although I did not get a ticket I felt duly chastised. Uh oh…..better behave! 

Speed bumps  and  speed “humps” are made of several different materials…including “recycled plastic or ultra -dense recycled rubber.” They can be permanent… or portable used for special events. These bumps are ideal to slow down traffic in parks, school zones, commercial areas, residential areas, industrial areas and sporting venues. According to the internet, Uline ( a mail order company based in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin) stocks a vast selection of rubber speed bumps and removable strips available in various lengths. Hugely popular! Uline also stocks other items but until I read about speed bumps on the internet, I never heard of this company.

Anyway, now that we all understand the purpose of speed bumps or humps or whatever you want to call them, let us think about them as a metaphor for daily living. None of us can journey through this life without encountering “bumps” along the way. I believe they vary during youth, middle age, and older age. Each phase is significant for its different challenges.

Think of the child who grows up in a dysfunctional family. Becoming a successful and productive adult is not guaranteed. So then, why do some children miraculously rise above chaos while others reflect lasting scars? Why does one child, bullied or abused, grow stronger as a result? Such childhood hurdles are daunting, yet  some children seem imbued with an inherent determination that either aids them to rise above it or seek necessary affirmation from a teacher, a grandparent or an older sibling.  For those of you who have read Educated by Tara Westover, she is a perfect example of a young woman who triumphed over her traumatic childhood as the daughter of eccentric survivalist parents in Idaho. From working at age ten in her father’s scrap dump to earning a graduate degree awarded by Cambridge University in England, Tara’s  story is utterly remarkable. (Recommended reading for all.)

Think of the young fellow or gal who falls in love and marries way too early….maybe it is because he or she fantasizes that romantic love is the here all end all. Maybe the girl finds herself unexpectedly pregnant. Most likely she and her boyfriend believe that infatuation is enough. The rest will fall into place. Yes, young love is dazzling, but we older folks know marriage is far more than mutual attraction or a pretty face. And when we see youngsters marry, have a baby and  falter choosing divorce at their first roadblock, we ache for them and most of all for their innocent little child. We older folks know that lasting love takes enormous commitment, sacrifice, dedication, determination and devotion. As a naïve young bride of nineteen, I know for sure that a successful marriage is not automatic. It is hard work, through thick and thin. Only if a couple really respects and listens to each other will marriage unite two people together for “better or worse”….for a lifetime. Love grows or diminishes over time. These days the chances of most young couples remaining married for over sixty years, as John and I are, are slim.

As an avid reader, I am riveted by true stories of Holocaust victims who miraculously survived Auschwitz, Ravensbrauck or any horrific     concentration camp. How did anyone endure such subhuman and depraved conditions? Pondering that question is proof positive of how a person’s mind and human spirit have the power to grasp hope and maintain endurance in order to live. The Holocaust was hardly a “speed bump.” Rather it was the Mount Everest of evil….yet, truth be told, some people were able to make it to the top, by the grace of God and their own inner strength…plus a touch of luck.

For most people we each know, youthful years are blessed by good health, fitness and varied opportunities to seek an education and gain employment following graduation from college or a trade school. Because I left college after two years to marry my husband, who could support us with his engineering degree, I was infinitely cognizant that in a changing world, our daughters must each be able to earn a living by having “certificates of something from somewhere.” My greatest worry was that if something happened to my husband while we were raising our four children, I was woefully unprepared to earn a viable living without going back to school. 

Perhaps that awareness was my greatest “speed bump” in early middle age. At one point I investigated returning to college, and learned that I could receive some additional credits for “life experience.” Our many corporate moves qualified as one, and my extensive volunteer work was another. However, after taking one college course, I realized how much time and effort it took away from my family. And I stopped, never to return again to college…yet, at least all four of our children have been well educated and are successful adults.  Whew!

When we think about the Middle Years of life and the “speed bumps” many people hit, one thinks of the corporate world. These days job hopping is far more prevalent than it was when my husband worked in industry. Resumes are more varied as executives move from one company to another…either because of downsizing or “greener pastures.” It is common knowledge that the farther up the corporate ladder a person climbs, the greater the risk that he or she will be dropped like a hot rock if the bottom line hits a snag. For anyone who has a young family, moving every few years is a  daunting challenge. I know that all too well…..yet, whenever we moved while our youngsters were growing up, my husband worked for the same company. Now, however, loyalty is scarce, and the policy of “last hired-first fired” reigns. For sure, this mantra presents its own special “speed bumps.” How I admire the families that survive these upheavals, even if they have to rethink  interim employment in order to put food on the table. Probably each of us knows someone in our lives who has been so affected. Once again, it is the intrinsic inner spirit that lifts a person and a family to rise above the unexpected “bump.”

I also think about the middle age marriages that unravel. SO sad, in so many cases….but not unusual. How well I remember attending my husband’s 25th college reunion and seeing some of his classmates with unfamiliar women. Some looked young enough to be their daughters. No, they were wives. And at that age, losing a wife to death was indeed rare. We know  only one friend whose darling wife (and a college classmate of mine) succumbed to cancer long before she was forty.  The others were new wives, euphemistically called “trophy wives.” While no one can walk in another person’s shoes, and no one of us has the right to impose our ways on another, I can only comment that it is sad to me when children are affected by divorce during their formulative years. Yet, perhaps long-term damage is worse for children in a contentious family environment. So, should divorce happen, facing that “speed bump” is a very personal and private affair, impervious to judgment. Simply not fair.

As years pass and we get closer to older age, our challenges naturally evolve. Once a person has reached retirement age, life takes on a new and exciting dimension. For John, who retired at age 62 because his company was sold, and me, those became many of our most favorite years, even though it took a while to adjust to the unexpected “bump” of sudden retirement. No sooner did he retire than our last child was married. And we were bona fide empty nesters. Truly a “nudge” that allowed us to explore new possibilities. Lucky us and everyone who takes time to travel, to reconnect with each other, to savor shared blessings and enjoy the wonderful world around us. Lucky us to have time to enjoy the fruits of our labors….to be available to babysit little grandbabies, to feel the freedom of time to do as we chose. Lucky, lovely years. And if you or your parents are in that phase of life, please, please take advantage of it…ENJOY and embrace every healthy, happy day.

Each one of us encounters our own speed bumps. Sometimes they are health related, sometimes they are situational. But in any event, they are part of life. They make us pause to ponder…and in my mind, they remind us to slow down, look both ways and proceed forward. By doing that we are better prepared for whatever lies ahead.

And when the older years descend, “scoop up God’s love,” a marvelous phrase heard in a recent sermon by our minister. Let’s allow ourselves to realize that times may change, years fly by, but whatever happens, we can meet the challenges if we prepare  for the future and learn from past experience. Be resilient. Hold your faith close. Be open to changing your heart, your mind and your attitude. Allow yourselves  to follow whatever path life takes. 

We know that we can never be complacent. Make the move to a smaller home, a retirement facility, or a condo where you can avail yourself of full-time care if you need it. Promise not to dump your old age on your children. They have their own lives…and they deserve to live them as they see fit, without worrying about us. Avoid unnecessary speed bumps by thinking ahead to the time when you may not see them coming or they smack you in the jaw. As Winston Churchill once said, “To improve is to change, to be perfect is to change often.”

So! Follow the road signs of life. Heed the speed bumps as they appear. They may  not be expected. They will make us slow down, but  they don’t make us stop. Put on the brakes, roll down your windows,  and take a minute to breathe in the sunshine and fresh air of life! 

And lastly, one more quote (by an unknown author) that truly resonates with me: “If nothing ever changed, there would be no butterflies!”

Photo | Bigstock

Joy Nevin is the author of Joy of Retirement – Live, Love, and Learn. Click to buy on Amazon.