Displayed in the various rooms of my house are trinkets, treasures, and mementos gathered during a lifetime of experiences. Souvenirs, photographs, handicrafts— some were acquired at great lengths, such as the authentic Welsh lovespoon I commissioned from a craftsman and had shipped from Wales to Pennsylvania for my 2oth wedding anniversary; some came serendipitously, like the heart-shaped stone my then-five-year-old son proudly presented me one summer afternoon. All keep company in my home because they help to tell my family’s story, and because seeing them reminds me of things I don’t wish to forget.
We collect words, too: pithy sayings, bon mots, slogans, axioms, oft-repeated advice from Great Aunt So-and-So, ironic messages revealed at the crack of a fortune cookie. . .Much of what we hear and read washes over us and out to sea without registering so much as a blip in our brainwaves; yet a few strike dirt, take root, and grow to become part of what makes us who we are.
Having lived long enough to realize the truth this one-liner from Indiana Jones, “It’s not the years, honey, it’s the mileage,” I offer up Six Life Lessons Everyone Should Learn:
1. No One Gets to the Finish Line Without a Few Dents
From the time we hit the atmosphere, life is a race: a rat race, a horse race, a stock car race, a foot race. . .and though we’ve all been admonished to “slow down and smell the roses”, humans are in a perpetual rush toward the same, inevitable finish line. But whether we reach our checkered flag in ten years or a hundred, no one crosses without a few dents. My brother shared this with me, while another friend put the same thought in slightly less poetic terms: Everyone has his own personal pile of shit to climb. So, drivers, put on your helmets and strap yourselves in; life is no kiddie ride.
2. Now Isn’t Forever
Ever find yourself caught in what seems like a loop of misfortune or despair? True story: during an especially trying time for both my mother and me, we used to meet daily and exchange moral support in the forms of an hour of television and a piece of chocolate. Printed inside the wrapper of one Dove bar was this message: Now isn’t forever. OK, I know the cocoa-tinged inspirations are nothing more than a clever marketing ploy, but day-um! No matter what fresh, new hell the day seems to bring, those three words remind me that it’s only temporary. This, too, shall pass. . .in the meantime, pass the chocolate!
3. If God Forgives, So Can You.
More than ten years ago I sat knee-to-knee with a dear friend, nursing the self-inflicted wounds of anger, guilt, and yes, pity. Although I’ve never claimed perfection, I was disappointed in my failure to bring resolution to a situation I’d created even more years in the past. “Do you pray?” my friend wanted to know. I answered that, indeed, I do pray. “Did you ask God to forgive your mistakes?” Yes, in fact, I had. “And do you believe that He has forgiven you?” Yes, I did believe it. So my friend looked in my eyes and calmly inquired what I was waiting for. Then she asked pointedly if I thought my own forgiveness came at a higher premium than the Almighty’s. Snap. The inability to forgive one’s mistakes is evidence of a healthy conscience—to a point. Beyond that, it’s self-flagellation. I’ll admit I’m still my harshest critic, and probably always will be. But I’m working on it.
4. For Better or For Worse, but Not For Granted.
Accepting a partner no matter what life dishes out is a promise more easily made than kept. Sobered up from the sex and stupidity of early love, a long look at what’s been wrought is in order. And sometimes that’s the point at which a single, dangling thread is revealed—a thread that can be pulled until the fabric of the relationship begins to unravel, leaving the partners standing before each other, truly naked for the first time. Recently I overheard two guys complaining about the manner in which their wives helped with jobs around the house. “She just can’t carry as much as I can, and it slows me down,” said Guy#1 while Guy #2 commiserated. “I know, right? It’s like having a kid try to help. After she leaves I have to go back and redo everything the right way.” I was reminded of a woman I know who remarked about the lunch her husband had packed for her, “He knows I like more jelly than peanut butter. How hard can it be?” Little inconveniences aside, it made me sad to hear these people being so harsh. Wives who ache to help— however awkwardly—and husbands who express their love with poorly ratioed PB&J’s are to be treasured.
5. The Only True Happiness Is Inside You.
We all can cite the circumstances and activities during which we feel happy: spending time with a special person, making music, traveling, exercising, at work. . .but what if those circumstances and activities change or disappear altogether? What then? I am supremely happy with my husband, but if he should die and leave me alone (as was the case with my own parents years ago), I would have to carry on. Tying your happiness to something or someone else is tenuous at best, and it’s an awful lot of pressure to put on the recipient of your expectations. I don’t pretend to hold the secret, though I’m sure some would say it can be found in faith—and here I won’t differentiate between traditional religions and the zen-like inner peace sought by some. But I do believe that true happiness comes from within. Everything else is gravy.
6. And In The End, The Love You Take Is Equal To The Love You Make.
I was just a kid when the Beatles released the Golden Slumbers/The Weight/The End medley, which was to be the last time they recorded collectively, and the piece closed with this proclamation. My little girl mind focused on the final four words, as I had only just learned about the birds and the bees (tee hee hee). I don’t remember at which point I realized the message wasn’t about sex at all, but about karma, about applying the Golden Rule (Do unto others as you would have done to yourself.), about not expecting more from life than what you’re willing to invest. Although they put a decidedly flower child spin on it, the message is rock solid, and hearing John, Paul, George, and Ringo sing it gives me chills—even after all these years. Want to know a secret? I’m not a tattoo kind of girl, but if ever I were to submit my flesh to the needle, it would be for these fifteen words.