Getting Older and a Few Things I’ve Learned

Today I am 50 years old.  I took the day off work and had lunch with my mom. One of her dining companions told me “Some day you’ll realize how young 50 is.” I think I realize it now. I don’t feel old. At all.

However, an interesting thing happened a while back that gave me a hint that I might have lived a while. I picked up a copy of Anna Quindlen’s “A Short Guide to a Happy Life” hoping to glean some gems of wisdom. As I thumbed through the pages, I found myself thinking, “But I already know this.” Oh! Epiphany time! Maybe I’m now an elder who can dispense wisdom as well as receiving it. Like Anna Quindlen.

This possibly being the case, here are a few things I’ve learned through the years:

1. You can never really know what anyone else is thinking. You can only know what they’re saying and doing. Two different people can do the exact same thing for two completely different reasons. Sometimes you might make a good guess and the evidence might support that guess, but you’ll never know for sure. I’ve found my life usually goes better when I give the benefit of the doubt, if at all possible.

2. I’ve had the privilege of spending time with a variety of people from different backgrounds, of different races, religious beliefs, political opinions, abilities and economic levels. I’ve been in groups of atheists and groups of fundamentalist Christians. I’ve known Buddhists and Muslims. I’ve conversed with folks who are wealthy and folks who are homeless; I’ve discussed politics with liberals, libertarians and conservatives. And one thing holds true. No matter the beliefs or circumstances of a group of people, if you get a big enough crowd together, you’ll end up with the same basic mix of personalities. Some will be loud, some quiet, some arrogant, some humble, some considerate, some inconsiderate, some driven, some more relaxed, some selfish, some giving. People are people are people.

3. Others will come and go in my life, but I’m guaranteed to have to live with myself every minute of every day until I die. So I need to be a person I can live with. In the long-term, I rest easier when I listen to my conscience more than I listen to popular opinion.

4. Hand-in-hand with #3 – the biggest regrets in my life, the most painful memories, are not the ones in which someone hurt me, but the ones in which I acted badly and hurt someone else. Those are the memories that haunt me.

5. Forgiveness is a necessary building block of society. We all need it at one time or another. If there is no forgiveness, there is no reason to try to do better next time.

6. No matter what you do, somebody won’t like it. Make your peace with this.

7. Nobody escapes pain. Bad things will happen to you. But what happens to you and who you are – those are two different things.

8. Worrying has never helped me through any situation so far. If things went south, obviously the worrying didn’t correct the problem. If things turned out okay, I was worried for nothing.

9. Stopping a moment to breathe has helped me through numerous situations.

10. This is a very personal lesson. I am old enough now that a realization is finally sinking in – I’m never going to fix everything about myself. There’s one specific area I’ve worked on a lot. I have social anxiety and am resultantly socially awkward. I’ve made great strides over the years, but I know now I’m never going to cure myself. It will always be a condition to be managed; never one from which I’ve recovered. The good news is I’ve also decided it’s okay to have this imperfection. I no longer berate myself about it. After all, Ted Bundy reportedly possessed excellent social skills and look what he did with them.

11. Taking care of your teeth is more important than I can possibly say.

12. 50 isn’t too old to feel crushing disappointment when a package arrives at your house on your birthday and it’s not for you.

13.  You really can learn something new every day, no matter how long you live.

14. The universe is an amazing place.

If I think of more, I’ll write an addendum.


You Were Right, Mom

While my mom is still around, I want to take this opportunity to say, publicly, that she was right about so many things. Not that we see eye-to-eye on everything. But I’ve come around on a lot of issues since I was a kid.

I can rarely convince my son to wear a coat, even on the coldest winter days. I comfort myself by noticing how few kids exiting his high school in the afternoon are bundled up. If I’m a bad mom, at least I have lots of company. I remember how I never wanted to wear a winter hat in my younger days, no matter how many maternal admonishments I received about frost-bitten ears. I wouldn’t believe my mom was right about how important it was to cover your head in order to stay warm, because nobody else my age was doing it. In a concrete sense, I really was too cool.

Somewhere in the years of my adult life I stopped caring whether other people were wearing hats or not. I wanted to be warm. Since I have a lot of hair, I often go for a scarf wrapped around my head in lieu of hat, but I do cover my head with something when the temperature dips below freezing. Mom, you were right. It makes a huge difference.

And, Mom, the thing where  you always cleaned the top of a can before opening it? Totally the right thing to do. I used to think this was a silly obsession springing from your clean freak nature. Besides, it added needless seconds onto the food prep time. Then I became a mother, myself. After enough experience cleaning up someone else’s puke, I couldn’t help thinking a little harder about food safety and cleanliness. Once I took the time to make a close observation of the workings of the can opener, I realized how easily the device could push anything from the top of the can into the food. I’ll never reach anywhere near my mom’s level of tidiness, but on this one issue, yeah, she’s probably right. Definitely right. It only takes a couple of seconds after all, to wipe the top of a can. And then I can serve my family tomato sauce with confidence.

Also, my things do last longer when I take care of them. Who would have thought it? Oh yeah – you, Mom.