Paperwork: You think you are paying attention, but maybe you’re not

“Be careful. Be safe.”

How often do we throw out those parting words each day? They should not be wasted words.

Well, the little toe on my left foot – right now – is telling me those are fantasy words. It’s an illusion to think you can protect the ones you love by warning them to be careful out there.

It’s not much more than wishful thinking and another way to say we care.

Those few simple words do relay an important message: “Please be careful because you are important to me. I care about you. A lot.”

Yeah, be careful. Because we all painfully learn at an early age that accidents do happen. To everybody. At any given time.

For example ... me, this morning, doing my usual shuffle through the living room. I was barefoot and pursuing my normal routine of opening the curtains. The day always gets better when sun fills the room.

So I’m walking around furniture that is always there. In the same spot. Never moves. Still, I jam that little toe into the leg of the ottoman.

Have I done this before? Many times.

Normally I do this little dance while the pain spikes, accompanied by a simple chant. I won’t repeat the lyrics, in case there are children or nuns nearby. But I do get vocal.

Not so today. It didn’t hurt right away. I thought it should since the toe was angling off in the wrong direction. Then it started to hurt.

Stubbing your toe is a common thing, right? The pain tends to fade quickly. What lingers is the embarrassment. Because this is the type of accident that should never happen. If you pay attention.

And there you have it. You have to pay attention. Simple as that. I was very careful with my poor little toe all day, giving furniture and all obstacles a wide berth. Oh, I was paying attention now. But ... truth is ... it will happen again someday.

And, no doubt, I will trip and fall someday. That’s another one of those little accidents that seem inevitable. There are a lot of little bumps in the road that seem trivial when you are younger. Bumps that get a bit scarier as you get older.

I can testify that balance will become a skill that is tested and challenged on a daily basis. We all have friends or family who have fallen, injuring a lot more than pride.

Tragic accidents fill the headlines every day. A flashing reminder that bad things can happen. Events that seem impossible to control. But it’s the little things that catch us off guard and trip us up.

I worry most about this when I am driving. (Even more so when I am the passenger.)

My wife spends hours each week driving the interstate that is jammed with tons of metal on wheels.

Every phone call ends the same: “Be careful. Pay attention.” She must be sick of hearing it. But I always feel better when she assures me: “I will.”

When someone asks you to be careful, know they mean it. It’s an important reminder you can never hear enough.

Especially if you’re barefoot.

Lonny Cain, retired managing editor of The Times in Ottawa, also was a reporter for The Herald-News in Joliet in the 1970s. Email or mail The Times, 110 W. Jefferson St., Ottawa, IL 61350.