It’s only two letters. You’d think that it would fly right off the tip of your tongue. Nope. It protects you not just from yourself but also from others. It can be your strong defense or a gentle offense. It encourages you when you’re about to give up and discourages you when you want to do something that you shouldn’t. In the 1980’s, Nancy Reagan, during her anti-drug campaign, coined it in the phrase: “Just Say No!” At the time, people made fun of her but I think she was spot on.
I have been saying, “No” since I was very young. You’d think I’d be a past master at it. Eh, not so much. Don’t get me wrong. I say it probably more than most. If you don’t do so with conviction and often, you’ll be run ragged by demands, expectations and guilt trips ad infinitum. Until recently, I was sure that most people my age also knew when to call it quits, not just at the gym or in relationships but in the workplace, too. They don’t.
Last weekend, 25 of us, ages 12 to 80, volunteered to unload food donations from across the city to replenish our community food bank. From 2-6 PM, outside in 97-degree heat, we sorted and boxed foodstuffs. We laughed, sang and talked through the work. By 5 PM, the 20 something’s finally figured out that they needed to do the heavy lifting and we older folks continued to bag and sort the incoming goods.
By 5:30, I noticed that the much older man next to me was bright red in the face, perspiring and visibly wincing as he opened the incoming bags.
“Darlin’,” I said to him, “It’s time for you to go home.”
“Oh, no, I can’t,” he argued. “We still have a half hour left.”
“That doesn’t matter,” I said. “You’ve been on your feet in this heat for 3 ½ hours. That’s more than enough. You’ve done great work. It’s time to go now.”
“But I volunteered until 6,” he protested.
“Sorry, we’re going,” I said, taking his arm.
Reluctantly, he let me lead him away and out to his car. As he got in, the relief in his face was obvious.
“Now go home, take a shower and put your feet up,” I said.
For those of you reading, I advise the same.