Keep walking though there’s no place to get to. Don’t try to see through the distances, That’s not for human beings. Move within, But don’t move the way fear makes you move.
When I was in my twenties, I imagined that by 40 or so (when I imagined such an advanced age at all), I would have acquired a certain grace at living. Grace implied to me a kind of sanguine wisdom, the possession of which would enable me to transcend all things petty, leaving me unshakably calm.
More recently, combing through birthday cards for a friend, I came across this gem: “With age comes wisdom.” (Inside) “But sometimes age comes alone.”
We’re getting closer to the truth here.
It’s something of a universal practice to pause on our birthday and consider what (if anything) the years have taught us. To reflect on the hand dealt us, how we’ve played it, and what we might do with the cards we still hold.
So, with another anniversary of my arrival on the planet just past, I thought I’d share some of the things I’ve learned—and some of the things I still hope to learn but haven’t quite yet got the hang of. It’s not Rumi. It may not even be Kung Fu Panda, but it’s mine own.
What I’ve Learned
- When riled to record heights of anger by the insensitive, the stupid, and the just plain nasty, do NOT under any circumstances tell the annoying person what you REALLY think of them. However eloquent anger may make you, however deeply satisfying it is to take down the offender with your verbal arrows, beware: The gods enjoy messing with us. At some unforeseeable moment in the future, in a setting you cannot now imagine, this person is bound to reappear in your life—as the interviewer for a job you really want, as a member of the critique group you just joined, as your child’s teacher. On that day you will be extremely happy that you kept your mouth shut.
2. When you are the dufus in the room, own it straight out and laugh at yourself. The reality of life is this: People spill drinks. They trip on stairs. Call someone by the wrong name. Trail toilet paper on their shoe. A few even fart. Look at it this way: Everyone else gets a kick out of your embarrassing moments, so why shouldn’t you?
3. Trust your intuition. That still, small voice you hear at critical junctures in your life? It’s not just some telemarketer from deep space. It’s the real you telling yourself what you already know at gut level. People put their faith in the stock market, in lottery tickets, in Vegas. How much crazier is it to trust your gut? On the brink of college graduation, utterly broke and armed with only a degree in English, my intuition spoke up one night as I sat listening to a musician friend in a local pizza pub. Right in the middle of “City of New Orleans,” it said: “You’ve got a vagabond heart. Do what you’ve always loved doing. Go be a writer.” I’m grateful everyday that I listened.
4. Ignorance is not bliss; it is a false bliss and a temporary one at best. There are big examples of this: Climate-change deniers. Everyone who looked the other way as Hitler rose to power and built the death camps. And small examples: Ignoring the symptoms of cancer, or the signs that a relationship is becoming abusive. Things ignored do not disappear. More often, they incubate until you have a really nasty mess to deal with. In my experience, it’s best to travel with your eyes wide open.
5. Never sell your soul for money. My dad spent his life accruing money, thinking about money, worrying about money. In exchange, he got the dream house, the country club membership, two luxury cars in the garage. But it never seemed to make him particularly happy. We all need food, shelter, a little fun, but I think the luckiest people are those who grasp the concept of “enough.” They enjoy a freedom that all the money in the world can’t buy. I’ll bet my dodgy 2001 Ford Focus on that.
What I’ve Yet to Learn But Hope To
- Don’t put your life on post-its, at least not the dinky 2” x 2” ones. At any one time, I have 100 or so of these colorful little squares floating over the surface of my desk. A random sampling of their deathless reminders to myself include:
The human capacity for deception
A spy? See Condell perfs in Jonson’s play
The really important ones are actually taped to the front of my desk where they eventually fade to absolute incomprehensibility.
2. When settling in to watch a movie at home, resist the urge to grab a bag of M&Ms, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Cheetohs (or anything else packing a month’s worth of calories) with the promise that you’ll stop after “a few.” You won’t.
3. Never shop for clothing when you are at the bottom of your weight range. For the record, I’m not much of a shopper, but the one thing that will propel me to the nearest mall is losing 4-5 pounds. Giddy (from lack of food), I plop down my Visa card and before you know it, I have a couple new pairs of jeans and two or three sleek little tops that look great . . . until I eat my next slice of pizza.
4. Stop counting the minutes, hours, days. I keep Rumi’s quote above my desk, but I’m still learning it. Perhaps, by 80, I’ll achieve that grace I mentioned earlier and learn to let everything arrive in its own time.