Comfort zones are meant to be broken

Last Sunday, I assisted the pastor of our church in offering communion. I had responded to a midweek request for volunteers, but when the day came, I was nervous. It was something I had done maybe once a long time ago, but not lately. I was in a Sunday-morning-sit-in-a-pew-and-sing-softly comfort zone.

My concerns ranged from "What if I trip on the steps going up to the altar and go splaying all over the carpet in the front of the entire church" to "What if I spill red wine on someone's new summer frock."

I'd asked for a one-minute tutorial about exactly where to stand and what to do when small children came through the communion line, and I got it in written form. That impressed me. It calmed me, as well. Apparently those who volunteered in the past felt a similar need for information to raise comfort levels.

As written "tutorials" go, this one was stellar. It was a clearly written one-pager that included a warning to the reader not to squirt the hand sanitizer too hard — or things could get really messy. That was a problem I'd not even considered.

I stayed a little nervous until the entire process was over and later gave thanks I'd not tripped or spilled or squirted inappropriately. I also gave thanks that I'd actively participated in something outside my comfort zone. In this instance, something very sacred. Hallelujah.

As we age, we may be inclined to "default" to safer, easier activities.

I know aging adults who are unwilling to leave their homes for fear of tripping or spilling or "squirting."

I know hearing-impaired people who are socially isolated because it takes too much effort or situational discomfort to use the hearing aids they keep in a drawer at home.

I know sight-impaired people "¦ but you get the picture. As we age, we may find ourselves outside a comfort zone we took for granted when we were younger. Losing control of situations and circumstances can make us reluctant to try new things, meet new people, take risks — even little ones. Sometimes a little more information or an encouraging word can help.

As we age, capabilities diminish to the point that we might even re-vision ourselves as frail and old and start to act that way and limit our activities even further. Let's not do that. It only exacerbates the problem, feeds dependence and causes us to become, well, more frail and old.

There's a phrase I think about when I'm reluctant to try something new. It's used by aging experts to encourage people with arthritis and rheumatism to keep physically active. "The weakest and oldest among us can become some sort of athlete, but only the strongest can survive as spectators; only the hardiest can withstand the perils of inertia, inactivity an immobility."

Think about those words. Apply action accordingly.

Sharon Johnson is a retired Oregon State University associate professor emeritus. Reach her at 541-261-2037 or

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