To in­fin­ity … and be­yond

Know­ing one’s lim­its isn’t the same as ac­cept­ing them

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - EDITORIAL PAGE - Gary Smith Gary Smith is a re­cov­er­ing jour­nal­ist liv­ing in Rogers.

Ihave an amaz­ing abil­ity: I know when to say when. The prob­lem is, I can only ex­er­cise this su­per­power when I’ve al­ready passed “when.”

Yes, I can tell with com­plete con­fi­dence that my best stop­ping point is, say, four. Typ­i­cally, I can tell this when I’m on, say, seven, but still, I un­der­stand my lim­its. And, as Clint East­wood said in one of those po­lice movies that sort of blend to­gether, “A man has to know his lim­i­ta­tions.”

Now this isn’t “limited” (see how I did that?) to food or drink (or food and drink. Or just drink, but not in a while, be­cause, well, some­one al­ways has to go to store or get picked up. You know, the Dad thing.).

I know, for in­stance, that my op­ti­mal bed time is 10 p.m. I rec­og­nize this fact all the time. At around 11 or 11:30. If it’s the third time you’re head­ing back to the buf­fet line, you re­ally, tech­ni­cally can’t call it “sec­onds” any­more. And, a nor­mal hu­man be­ing wouldn’t com­mit 13 hours of a week­end to a tele­vi­sion series he can watch at his leisure. I ac­knowl­edge this about Hour Nine, and just keep com­ing back for more.

In other words, I rec­og­nize what a dis­ci­plined per­son would do, typ­i­cally as I’m not do­ing it.

I men­tion all this be­cause, well, I have a sun­burn.

Not a huge, “all my skin is fall­ing off and I have to wear shorts to work, ex­cept I can’t so I just get to be re­ally un­happy for a few days’’ sun­burn. It’s not the kind you get when you do some­thing stupid like fall asleep in a beach chair on the first day of your va­ca­tion and spend the rest of the week wrapped like a mummy and glar­ing at peo­ple through su­per dark sun­glasses while they play in the ocean.

No, it’s just enough of a sun­burn to be an­noy­ing. Or at least to be the thing I’m an­noyed about at this mo­ment. And it takes so lit­tle.

For no ap­par­ent rea­son, my sun­burn came as some­thing of a sur­prise for me, mostly be­cause the Lovely Mrs. Smith is very much the Sun­burn Po­lice. Her tomb­stone will read, “Did you reap­ply?” She takes sun­burns as an af­front to her moth­er­ing or “wif­ing” skills. No sun­screen left be­hind, at least not on her watch. And she goes with the hard­core, ba­si­cally white tar SPF 100 stuff that pro­vides more pro­tec­tion than stay­ing in the house with the cur­tains drawn.

I mean, it re­ally, re­ally works. If you re­mem­ber to use it. Which I do. Of­ten. I think. So, I guess we’re sort of see­ing the prob­lem here.

Un­der nor­mal cir­cum­stances, I wouldn’t even men­tion this. Of course, un­der nor­mal cir­cum­stances, and thanks to a com­bi­na­tion of hered­ity and ge­net­ics, I wouldn’t ever get a sun­burn. But it’s been an odd year with lots go­ing on that didn’t in­volve hit­ting the course/lake/pool/ beach/back­yard. When I did get the chance to be out, I fig­ured out my limit was a cou­ple of hours of sun. By that re­al­iza­tion, I was about seven hours into the day.

There goes that su­per power again.

The thing is, I’m not re­ally alone in this. Whether it’s too much sun or too much moon­shine, we hu­mans are great at know­ing our rea­son­able lim­its and pow­er­ing right through them on the way to epic fails. The fact en­tire in­dus­tries have been built on sun­burn re­lief and han­gover cures in­di­cates we’re not just undis­ci­plined; we’re a busi­ness model.

All of which calls into ques­tion our some­times ten­u­ous hold at the top of the food chain. I mean, my dogs are the two dumb­est an­i­mals on the face of the earth. They fre­quently get lost in the laun­dry room. They can’t find the ball we were play­ing fetch with while they’re stand­ing on top of it. They bark at their re­flec­tion in the mir­ror.

And yet, when it’s 90 de­grees out­side, nei­ther of them says, “Nah, I’m good. I’m just go­ing to lay on my stom­ach for a bit. Be fine. I never burn.”

There I go, fail­ing the “Are You Smarter than a Pomera­nian?” test again.

Maybe I’m get­ting bet­ter. In years gone by, I’d have stub­bornly tried to con­vince every­one I didn’t ac­tu­ally have a sun­burn, that that laun­dry de­ter­gent we’ve been us­ing for a while had sud­denly caused me to have a rash.

So let’s take this op­por­tu­nity to cel­e­brate my per­sonal growth and new­found dis­ci­pline and ma­tu­rity, with ice cream. My limit is two scoops. Which is why I’m hav­ing four.

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