Tuesday, April 28, 2015

On Forty

Credit: Susanne Nilsson, Creative Commons License

I feel like I should mark the occasion of my fortieth birthday with some kind of writing, but I’ve been trying for six weeks and so far, all I can push out is trite, overwrought and a little melodramatic. In other words, my predilections haven’t changed much since I hit that magical number - the one that so clearly divides youth and whatever we’re currently calling the other side of that coin. 

I guess I’ll say a few things at this distinct mile marker on my inevitable march toward death, anyway. I’m too old now to get too hung up on whether or not the eight people who might read this will think I’m trite. I’ve got news for you: It’s all trite. It’s all been done. None of us knows anything. The only difference I’m finding at 40 is that this thought no longer terrifies me. 

But here are some things I feel sure about, and a little advice, too. I fully acknowledge that in another decade, I’ll feel a flush of shame and realize I still didn’t know shit at 40, either, but it’s important to honor ourselves right where we are sometimes. I hope 50-year-old me agrees. Here goes:

We’re all seekers. Some of us are stronger in our convictions than others. Some of us have deeply held faith in the unknowable and it guides us. Some of us challenge everything and accept nothing at face value. No matter what, we all seek knowledge and love and companionship and fulfillment, if we’re lucky. 

We’re all wrong and that’s alright. No one is right all of the time, and you never know if you’re catching someone else in a right or wrong moment. Be slow to criticize and quick to empathize. Repeat to yourself in times of confusion and especially in those moments when you’re feeling a little smug: “There but for the grace of God, go I.” Even if you don’t believe in “god” or God or g_d. Because none of this is permanent. The Earth below your feet is constantly shifting and now and again, the crack that emerges might feel as though it will swallow you up. Or maybe you’ll just wish it would. Cherish the lovely moments when they come, if you can, but don’t beat yourself up if you find yourself more likely to recognize the preciousness in those moments in retrospect. It’s impossible to inject meaning in the moment. Meaning comes later. 

Nobody gets the best version of you all of the time. The people who stick around anyway are probably your tribe. Embrace and acknowledge these kindred spirits because there isn't an endless supply of them.

We’re all gonna die, and that’s not just a gorgeous Sufjan Stevens’ lyric. I’m prone to getting stuck on this hurdle. Mortality is maybe the only thing that’s for sure. Wherever your faith leads you, this corporeal form will falter one day. I’ll leave it to you to define what a soul really is or why we’re here, anyway, or what will happen to your supposed legacy. But I will say this: We’re all gonna die, and I think it makes better sense to channel the Flaming Lips on this matter: “Instead of saying all of your goodbyes, let them know you realize that life goes fast. It’s hard to make the good things last…” 

Everyone we know will die, too. Again, the Flaming Lips gets it. "Do you realize that everyone you've ever known someday will die?" Yup. And man, that sucks. It's something some of us try to comprehend all our lives. You've got to find your own way through this little nugget of truth. Grief is unique to every person. You can't walk another person through it. You can't pull someone out of it. It alters people and it hurts and it's all part of the journey. When it visits you, be patient with yourself.

Some things are universal. Smiles. Music. Laughter. Sadness. Loss. Guilt. Somewhere right now, across the expanse of the universe is someone who is nothing like you, but who understands all of these things, intimately, as do you, as did your mother’s mother, as will your children’s children. The human condition is universal. We’re all just trying to get home again. 

Kindness matters. And it doesn’t mean rolling over or channeling a high traffic welcome mat. It means honoring the fact that we’re all going through our own shit, and nobody can hold together the fragile pieces of their own little world all of the time, so for the love of Pete, try a little patience. Stand up for yourself because you matter, too, but hold out a little tenderness for your fellow man. Stand up for the voiceless and for the things you believe in and try to hold out hope for people who have turned away from humanity. Nobody was born to hate. We all have the capacity, and the soul-sucking need for love and belonging. Bad things happen where love isn’t allowed to grow. Call me a hippie and hand me my rose-colored glasses, but I mean this in a practical way. Humans need love. Full stop.

When you screw it all up, own it and eventually, forgive yourself. Forgive yourself when you’ve done all you can. Repentance is a waste at a certain point. It’s not productive. Sometimes, you won’t get your words across right. Sometimes, you’ll sink so quickly into the muck that you won’t recognize it as muck until it’s up to your chin and by then, nobody’s getting out clean. Learn to step away. Understand that not everyone will like you, or get you, or think anything about you at all. It’s okay. Don’t get too stuck on this. 

Get more sun. Drink more water. Put down your devices more often. Breathe. Drop out of the race when you reach your personal goal. Ignore most magazines. Make art. Sing. Hike. 

Listen to Mary Oliver.