I had my birthday this week – I had been putting it off for a while now – which means I turned 53. And so I got to thinking, “What, if anything, do I feel I can honestly say I’ve learned in this half century and change?
Here’s what I’ve come up with, and now I give you the gift of my wisdom. “What, me giving you a gift? It’s your birthday; surely it’s we who should be giving YOU a gift.”
That’s a great point. But you didn’t, did you? For whatever reason (and in the end, does it matter what the reason is?), you didn’t. So we will just have to put that behind us. Or try to. It’s early days. Anyway, here is a partial list (didn’t want to bog you down in Monty Python sketches) of what I THINK I’ve learned. Your mileage may vary:
– Despite my earlier assumptions in life, kindness is vastly more impressive and important than intelligence. Being proud of intelligence is like being proud of your blood type: an accident of birth. Kindness is a choice. An often very difficult one, whose benefits in the short term redound to others rather than yourself.
– Despite my earlier assumptions in life, our access to jet packs in the 21st Century is meager at best.
– I will never understand why some people have done what they’ve done. There reaches a point where accepting that is important and liberating.
– That isn’t permission not to make a good faith effort to try.
– I will never understand why I’ve done some of things I have done, and there reaches a point sometimes where accepting that is both important and liberating.
– This doesn’t free me from regular check ins about why and how I make the choices I do.
– Your friends matter. A lot. Choose them carefully and then tend to these friendships often and with care.
– Doing things with simplicity can be harder than building ornate structures for our thoughts and feelings. Complexity in thought and action is often a wonderful thing, but it can sometimes be used in the service of obscuring.
– Biting into an oatmeal raisin cookie you assumed was a chocolate chip cookie is a legitimate existential crisis.
– I will almost definitely never play for the New York Yankees. Frankly, the odds of ever making any Major League roster look dim at this point.
– So many of my life goals involve things beyond my control, and though that’s little comfort when I realize I may not achieve them, maybe it means I have to recalibrate my goals. Doing so is hard. It’s ok to feel how hard it can be.
– This is a BIG one: everyone is more or less winging it. I used to think there’d come an age when I’d wake up and finally understand the world. I haven’t. And I’m pretty confident no one has. I used to believe there must have been a day in school they taught us how to be adults and I happened to be absent that day. There is no such class.
– Few people terrify me more than those with absolute certainty.
– I need to remember that when I feel absolutely certain.
– This doesn’t exonerate you from your responsibility of taking action.
– I have accepted – at an alarmingly slow pace – the cliche that love is a verb and not a noun.
– Never turn down an offer of cake. Obviously this doesn’t apply to carrot cake.
– Forgiveness is often the hardest task in life, which makes it extra-important that we try our best to get good at it.
– There ARE no Nigerian princes who will to share part of their vast fortunes if you just give them a little money to help them out of a jam. Don’t believe their emails.
– We will probably never learn who let the dogs out.
– Be grateful if you can regularly achieve true gratitude.
– There will be things you say and do in an offhand way that you’ll quickly forget about that will stay with others their entire lives, for better or worse.
– Evil is real but relatively rare. Goodness is abundant but often hard to spot.
– This a controversial one – it’s ok to appreciate the contributions of people who may have also done bad things.
– The next time you want to condemn a person in the past for lacking what seems to us to be obvious moral and ethical truths, realize later generations will do the same to us.
– Giving a thank you wave when someone lets you go ahead of them in traffic is moral imperative.
– Unless they give you a good reason not to, always tip as generously as you can.
– A friend taught me this recently: Allowing people – especially loved ones- to help you isn’t a sign of failure.
– Don’t take it for granted people will always help you.
– Try to be frequently complicit in gentleness with whomever you can, whenever you can.
– Don’t confuse your gentleness for weakness, and make sure others don’t make the same mistake.
– If you’re debating about whether or not to order dessert, lean towards yes.
– I will never be able to correctly pronounce the word “Sudoko.”
– Ditto for correctly spelling the word “Bureaucracy.” I literally had to copy and paste it just now.
– Say yes for as long as you can, and learn to recognize when you no longer can.
– Learn to accept some people won’t ever like you. Obviously, try to keep the numbers down, but not everyone is going to like you. Just like you aren’t going to like everyone.
– You’re not required to like people, but you are required to be respectful of them. A hard one.
– Generally speaking, the love you take is equal to the love you make. I stole this one, obviously, but it’s still true.
– There are no grand conspiracies, evil or otherwise. You’re giving people way too much credit. We’re just not smart enough as a species.
– Learn the difference between quitting and choosing a different path.
– Your feelings subsist largely on a diet of your thoughts.
– The guilty party in every Scooby Doo episode is the second character the gang meets. Check it out for yourself if you don’t believe me.
– While endlessly fascinating to you, no one else wants to hear the details of that dream you had last night. No. One.
– Our most important job is to make the world a slightly better place when you leave it than when you showed up, even if only an inch.
– I know, it’s hard to do, but I’ll repeat: it’s been too long now, and any potential leads have long since evaporated: all we can know is that the dogs are out. Who created this condition is unknowable. Let the healing begin.
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