One of life’s great comforts: Consistency


As we age, many of us have become huge creatures of habit. When we thought about our habits-eating the same foods with the same ingredients, taking the same route when we walk or run, going to the same theaters and restaurants, and often with the same people, we realized we have almost always done things the same way to some extent.

However, we’ve become more entrenched as we head into year No. 3 of COVID-19. It’s not just because we’re old, though we are. It’s also because we need the rootedness that comes with knowing the old and familiar is still there, especially with the uncertainties of the stock market and the awfulness of the war in Ukraine. Who knows what news we wake up to each morning or go to bed with at night.

Technology is a good example of trying to keep abreast. We master one skill and are handy at using it. And then it changes when we upgrade one of our devices or an updated version of an old program appears on our screens. It doesn’t look the same and often the algorithms that always recognized us no longer do. We like to be remembered.

Being a stranger to something new means willfully trading a context we understand and finding comfort for one we don’t. That doesn’t preclude our trying a new restaurant or pastry shop, visiting a new city, meeting new people, touring a new museum, and even having our hair styled a bit differently (and usually using the same hairstylist) just to give ourselves a new fresh look.

We rationalize it this way: if we veer off course and take a chance and don’t like the place or how we look, it’s short-lived. We don’t have to return, our taste buds will survive the momentary jolt, our hair will grow back or the color will fade if we don’t care for the new cut or color and if the new folks we meet don’t become part of our inner circle, that’s okay, too. We’ll meet others.

We started thinking about the power of consistency after reading an article by Jeannette Cooperman in The Common Reader<> that resonated. Cooperman shared how going to the same place, ordering the same food and seeing the same people offers great comfort. We agree, especially now as the world has gone topsy-turvy and we don’t know what to expect!

Barbara has three favorite restaurants in her area where even though she doesn’t go that often, she does enough for the staff to recognize her and her beau. At one, they know when they bring butter for her rolls to bring him a bottle of olive since he’s lactose intolerant. At another, they know to seat the couple in the far back, away from everyone because of their fear of catching the virus. Before the coronavirus, they might not have viewed that spot as a reward but considered it an insult and form of being banished to the back of the place near the restrooms or exit.

Barbara also knows if she’s feeling cut off or lonely, she can take a stroll in her village and see favorite shopkeepers and engage in some conversation; same goes for when she stops by her library. And she always finds comfort that three close friends are up as early as she is, and ready to start the day off with a “what’s up?” phone call, which gives her great comfort.

Even TV and especially the long series we’ve become addicted to has become a big way for many of us to add consistency to our lives. Whether the characters are terribly flawed like fictional Ruth Langmore on Ozark (Julie Garner) or appealing such as Doctor Meredith Grey on Grey’s Anatomy (Ellen Pompeo)-two old series that Barbara is catching up on, they seem three-dimensional and worth checking up on their lives as though they are real people.

Margaret and her sisters always go to the same restaurant on New York City’s East Side and order the same things. The waiter knows them and always brings extra marshmallows for their hot chocolate and a plate of free cookies. Margaret also has her favorite hairstylist whom she has used since she moved to NYC, the same nail person who knows exactly which pedicure she prefers, the same independent bookstore clerk who now knows her and always asks how her latest book is selling, and the same barista at the independent coffee shop near her apartment who doesn’t have to ask how she wants her cappuccino prepared-a small with lots of frothed half and half or whole milk.

Margaret has her favorite restaurants, too, where she always orders the same thing: a cobb salad at one place, the tuna burger with the best French fries in NYC where the waiter knows her son and one of his work colleagues. She drops the names and always gets a reservation. Also, the server often brings extra wasabi mayo dip for her sandwich and fries or even extra fries at no charge.

Does doing the same thing make us boring and curmudgeons? We hope not and try to balance the old and steady with the new. Here’s our shared list of 13 items. What’s yours look like? We’d love to know.

Drinking our favorite type of coffee with the milk frothed in a rotating line-up of mugs at the same time each day. And eating the same breakfast, oatmeal!

Subscribing to a certain group of magazines and newspapers and knowing that they’ll keep arriving in our mailboxes or inbox since the publishers keep sending those renewal notices even before the subscription is over.

Keeping the same Medicare supplemental health care plan so we don’t have to worry about new rules and having to change doctors. Barbara recently changed her drug plan, which lowered her monthly fees.

Taking a favorite walk in our neighborhoods, along the same sidewalks, past the same shops or houses and seeing what’s in the windows or growing in the yards.

Making certain recipes that we inherited from our family members or have been making for decades. In our cases, Barbara keeps repeating Julia Child’s apple tart. Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock’s “Very Good Chocolate Cake,” her mother’s stewed apricots, tiny potato pancakes and rugelach. Margaret makes her mother-in-law’s chicken matzoh ball soup, roast turkey and brisket recipes, and Barbara asks for her popovers and lemon bars.

Using the same company’s makeup and moisturizers — lipstick, blush, and mascara although the lipstick shades may vary seasonally, eye and face creams.

Taking the same weekly painting class whether virtually or in-person (Barbara), in part because the same classmates attend.

Tutoring virtually and in-person the same kids with the same team of tutors (Margaret) because they have great synergy and a routine that works.

Rewatching certain movies when we need a feel-good dose, for Barbara, You’ve Got Mail, Pretty Woman, Love Actually, Sleepless in Seattle while Margaret loves to rewatch any period piece such as Pride and Prejudice, Howard’s End, Emma, Little Women and Jane Eyre in all iterations.

Listening to the same music-for Margaret certain operas and classical favorites help her relax and focus when she writes. Barbara loves to cook and paint to ’50s rock and roll and both might listen to an interesting but same podcast.

Exercising at the same time each day with the same workout and when it’s safe with the same instructors. We all know the importance of moving our bodies at this age. And at this age, we know what we like.

Traveling to the same destinations as we used to travel before COVID-19. We each have our favorite destinations-cities or hotels–that we hope we’ll get to revisit soon again.

Writing a weekly blog weeks before it’s due gives us a healthy backlog of columns. Then rereading the week’s column on a Monday or Tuesday before it runs on a Friday gives us the comfort that we don’t have to rush-rush and finish it. And keeping a backlog of tweaked blogs to run weekly in the Jewish Light How comforting and we hope worthwhile for you!