When my former spouse turned 30, he had a very hard time dealing with getting that old. So he decided to skip it and become 31. He did such a good job of ignoring 30 that for a long time after he had to stop and think how old he really was. When he turned 40 (or maybe it was 39), he decided he was really over the hill. From that time on, he often used his age as an excuse for not doing something: "I'm too old for that," as in "I can't," or am unable to do so.

Now that I too am older, I am inclined to use that same excuse, but I am wondering when it ceases to be an excuse and becomes a reason. Recently during a break in the rain I decided I really needed to get some plant beds weeded. These pesky weeds have the tendency to grow faster and spread farther than anything else, and unfortunately the deer don't like to eat them.

I spent a good part of every day for about 10 days pulling and digging out weeds; they had gotten a really good start this year. And finally, one day one of my knees decided to quit that horrible task. The result of course was that the rest of me had to quit too. And now I think that maybe if I had been weeding, on my knees, all of those years that I didn't, maybe I would still be able to do it now. Back then I did not do it because I didn't want to. Now I don't do it because I can't.

I recently read about an exercise that supposedly people who can do it successfully will live a few years longer than people who cannot. The study was done over a period of six years. But I am confused, because in that study it was found that not even one person over 70-years-old could do it successfully. However I was able to do it, even though Spouse Roger could not, at least the first time he tried. He didn't believe I could do it and he couldn't. But after I showed him how I did it, then he could complete it too. I decided that I must not have read the directions correctly because we could both do it quite handily. Or they hadn't included enough older people in that study.

I can also imagine people not wanting to try it for fear of failing. And that's the can't-versus-won't dilemma. In my head, I know I can still do cartwheels. But I didn't try for many years, for whatever reasons, and now I am sure I can't. So I certainly won't try. I prefer to keep that image in my head of successfully turning cartwheels all over the lawn.

Having been a single person living alone for many years, I had no problem doing almost anything that needed doing. I remodeled a kitchen, and hauled the cabinets I was replacing out of the house on one of those fold-up luggage carts that were so popular back then. I was able to move heavy furniture by putting a throw rug under one end and lifting the other to push or pull the piece. I could move upright cabinets or items by "walking" them first on one corner and then the opposite one. I bought those wheels to put under really heavy stuff, and used a small carjack to get them under the piece of furniture. I carried stuff up and down steps, and all of that activity helped retain my ability to do that kind of thing.

But, with a man in the house, it is so easy to let him do it. After all, he always offers if he sees me doing something with which I might want or need help. That is really nice. But the downside is that now, after a few years of help, I find I can't do those things any longer.

The strength just isn't there, and I feel fairly certain it would be if I had kept on doing things by myself. It is no wonder that studies show women lose their upper body strength at a far earlier age than men: we just let them do the heavy stuff, and in the end, we pay a price for that.

Because I have been thinking about whether or not I am still able to do some things, I did try a minor plumbing job this week. Unfortunately, there was a small leak in my final result. I had to ask the stronger person in the household to tighten the connections because I guess I just wasn't strong enough.

It reminds me of the difference between "can" and "may," as in the oft-used phrase "can I help you?" versus "may I help you?"

"Can" means being able to do it; "may" means do I want to help you, or do I have your permission to do so. We can assume they "can" help - that they have the ability and they should already know that so no need to ask - but we can only hope they want to.

My former spouse, back when he turned 40, was not unable to do many of the things to which he said he no longer can. But, it is important to be careful, because what is really "don't want to" becomes truly "can't" very quickly.