What I've Learned So Far
As my birthday approaches, I'm struck by how much I don't know so far, but also by what I've learned in 65, almost 66 years on this earth. Here are the matters which foremost come to mind:
If you're lucky in love, all the rest falls into place. I've been both fortunate and unfortunate in love, but have had a husband for 32 years who has made my life worthwhile. I feel valued by and important to him, and I know without question, he has my back. Sure, we are a typical "in it for the long haul" couple with the normal ups and downs that come with every long marriage, but when push comes to shove, we are each other's biggest fans. Beyond that, all else falls into the proper perspective.
Kindness matters. We live in an age where political correctness is rampant. We can either be paralyzed by this, or simply treat everyone we meet or speak to with kindness. One never knows what anyone else is currently wrestling with, but in every event, we don't have to live long before we understand how difficult life can be. By treating each other with kindness and respect, we ease the pain and offer an easy access bridge to a better world. Lord knows we need one, today more than ever.
Friendships are treasures. Just like finding a partner to walk with us through this adventure we call life, we need friends. No one person can fill the "be all and end all" for someone else. Having a few close friends to lean on, to share with, laugh with, cry with, and plow through life's ups and downs with is essential to living a full and rich life. Friends add a new perspective we desperately need, even though we might not welcome it at the time, support to carry on through the speed bumps of life, and the opportunity for growth and acceptance.
Family is tough. We don't choose our families, but if we focus on the positive, instead of all the intricate complications that come with our birth family, we can find our place. What we all desire more than anything is to belong. From our kindergarten classroom on up, in our friendship circles, our professional relationships, or within our families, we desire acceptance. Families can often be tough. They are, after all, the people whom we not only value as our first basis for relationships, acceptance, and confirmation, but the folks who can strip of us of our confidence quicker than ice melts on a blistering summer day. Take the best from those relationships and deep six the rest.
Hire professionals. So often, we try to take on the world. Giving up the notion that we have to do everything ourselves, know everything about this complicated world we live in is essential. If you don't know how to roof your house, hire a pro. If Google provides the answers for all your questions, recognize there are times when it's necessary to abandon your search engine and hire a true expert. Seeking help is not a weakness, but rather a strength. Knowing when you don't know what you don't know is an "ah-hah" moment. Trust me, you'll be further ahead in the long run if you reach out to a seasoned professional.
Eat ice cream every day. A wise man who was at the end of his life gave me this advice one chilly spring day. We often deprive ourselves, at least I do, from the simple pleasures. We tell ourselves we don't deserve this or that. Ice cream adds pounds, isn't the healthiest of choices, etc., but when we allow ourselves to reap those small moments of pleasure, in moderation of course, we have all those little moments to look back upon. No one ever said, "I wish I didn't eat ice-cream" at the end of their days.
Nature heals. Life bogs us down with "do"s and "don't"s; I don't have time for this, I do have to finish this job. Go outside. Breathe fresh air. Watch the sunset. Go for a walk. Take a dip in the lake. Again, life is hard. Nature heals the spirit, as essential as healing the body when life takes its toll.
Be a tackle, not a receiver. If you go after what you want, rather than sitting back and waiting for life to happen, you increase your chances tenfold. All those old sayings like "the squeaky wheel gets the grease" are true. Nothing happens without work. Be determined. Overcome obstacles. Don't give up. If you do, don't expect much, if anything, to come your way.
Exercise. You only have one body. Take care of it. Not only does exercise help keep you in tip-top shape, it renews your spirit. While we all have those days we'd rather be couch potatoes or have a root canal than exercise, but I don't know anyone who ever said, "I wish I didn't swim a mile today," or "I never should have walked those miles."
Do whatever you do with passion. Find at least one thing in life you are passionate about and do it. I've been fortunate enough to be a lifetime educator and to be an author. I'm passionate about both. Neither are a cake-walk, but both have reaped countless rewards. Whatever it is that pulls you in, let the magnet lead you. Tinker with cars. Build furniture. Foster pets, or kids. Read. Go fishing. Live like you mean it.
Remember to dance. Music is a spiritual as well as a universal experience. The next time you listen to a song, remember to dance like no one is watching. Get the endorphins flowing. Listen to the lyrics. Sing along. Create a new dance move. You'll feel like a new person.
Anything in excess is too much. Beneath our tough exteriors, we are all fragile on the inside. Don't overdo. I'm not just talking about vices like drinking, smoking, or gambling. Even the good stuff can take a dogleg turn. Too much exercise oft times results in injury. Too much reading results in loss of sleep. Too much sugar makes you feel like crap. Take it easy. The word moderation exists for a reason. Respect the word, people.
Life is (too) short. Live each day with gusto. Appreciate the little things, because in the end, moments matters most. Enjoy every bite of the dinner you spent time preparing. Take the phone call from your friend, even if you're busy, and relish her laughter on the other end of the line. Hold hands with your spouse or partner. Tell your kids you love them.
Learn from your mistakes. Don't dwell on them. No one ever accomplished more by wallowing in their mistakes. Move on. Handle things differently next time. If you feel the need, apologize for screwing up, even if it's just to yourself. Forgive yourself. Move on. Did I already say that? Well, one more time for emphasis.
When life hands you a shit sandwich, don't add mayo. Seems like daily some times, but despite the variations in frequency, life can be a bugger. From out of the blue, a problem plops itself in your lap, or worse, slaps you between the eyes when you're already down and dealing with a million other piles of dung. Don't linger. Just deal with it. Don't go over the pile and add any extra condiments to the shit sandwich you are already dealing with. Tomorrow usually is better. I'm old. I have experience. I know.
You'll never have all the answers. Back when I was young, even just ten years ago, I suspected one of these days, I'd have more answers now than I did then. Never gonna happen. people. The longer I live and the more I talk with friends of the same distinguished age and older, the more I realize I'll never have the answers. Most of us do the best we can. We toss and turn over our actions, question our decisions, agonize over what we could have done differently, or better. In the end, all we can do is give life our best shot. As of good friend of mine used to tell me repeatedly, "Whitsitt, there's no crystal ball." Well, Matt, I still wish I had one.