I am soon to turn 40, which will mark the end of my 40th year on this Earth. I have learned so much, and yet I know it’s only a drop in the bucket of what there is to know, and what is known is only a drop in the bucket of what I believe mankind will eventually know ……………… it’s overwhelming really. And exciting.
I try to see the world with an open heart and mind, and try to view myself as a ‘work in progress’. But there are a few things I have definitely figured out about myself and the world. I know everyone and their dog does one of these when they turn 40 but this one is mine, and I am sharing because it’s what I do, and because maybe some of these things are the same for you and might make you think, or laugh, or cry, or shake your head. I am finding myself very nervous about putting these personal “self searchings” into the world but I am trying to love life as an open book, it seems easier that way. Plus I’m trying to encourage self-reflection in others. I think it’s healthy, and important, and very missing in our fast, hedonistic, and materialistic society. We need to visit the places inside that define us because it makes our actions easier to sync up with them. Anyhoo, here are 40 of mine – one for each year!
1. Farts are funny. Figured that out early and despite my best effort to outgrow or outclass that fact, it’s still a fact. Farts. Funny. Just are.
2. Wear a helmet. Brains are important.
3. Almost everything will bite you if you poke it a lot.
4. I have forgotten the funniest joke that I ever heard. The punch line is “Probably he is going to shit on the piano” …… in a really uber French Canadian accent. But I can’t remember the joke. When Mark and I find something funny that we probably shouldn’t, we just look at each other and say “probablee ‘e iz goeeng to shit on da Pee-AN-No” ……….. and that is why we probably should not have reproduced.
5. I am still wondering when I will feel like a grown up. Probably never. It’s like I’m locked in a larval stage. I’m half baked, raw in the middle, …… not done.
OK, that’s not something I know but it is a me-ism and that’s the same thing.
6. One of the greatest things ever written is “With Mirth and laughter let old wrinkles come.” Shakespeare wrote that, ……… or at least ripped it off and wrote it down in a play with his name on it. Doesn’t matter. It’s brilliant because it evokes beautiful imagery, and is also a challenge to embrace aging and live life in a way that will leave you smiling. Eight words which are meaningful enough on so many levels that they fire synapses in every corner of your brain AND warm your heart. Amazing.
7. I have a long list of character flaws. I am prone to resentment, I let fear hold me back, I wrestle between my need to go out in the world and help and my need to stay in pajamas all day (and often pajamas wins), I dwell on bad experiences, I can be petty, I can be quick to write people off as shallow, I can’t handle rude people, I can’t handle ‘me first’ people, I am too outspoken but I have trouble voicing my thoughts out loud which is why I write but that often seems cowardly, I am short tempered, I am easily overwhelmed, and so much more. I’d like to say that learning to conquer these flaws will be my life’s work, but it’s probably just NOT strangling speeders when I catch up to them at the same FRICKIN’ RED LIGHT!!!!!!!!!!!!! That’s the character flaw that’s most likely to land me in prison so probably I’ll really make an effort on that one. Seriously though, speeding is a very selfish act and one that endangers others. It’s one of the few societal rules that truly costs nothing, makes sense, and saves people. So slow the heck down or I may need to maim you.
8. Socrates said “Living well, and beautifully, and justly, are all one thing.” Well, Google tells me he said something like “Ζώντας καλά και όμορφα και δίκαια είναι όλα ένα πράγμα.” But whatever. I have the English version hanging on the inside of my front door to remind me. Regardless of how he said it I have taken this phrase to heart. It is a call to mindful living. I know the world does not owe me anything, but that I (by the very virtue of being alive in it) owe something to it. I think Socrates’ words sum that up. Life is to be enjoyed, to create and appreciate beauty, and for that beauty and enjoyment to not come at the expense of others. Don’t take advantage, give what you can, be a friend, be engaged and present in your own life and world, love life, and keep it simple; true compassionate living. His words are a joyful declaration about one’s place in the world which are so different from the ‘know your place’ drivel we usually hear. I love that.
9. My Grandmothers could have listed 40 things to do with old pantyhose (stockings) without batting an eye and before their first cuppa in the morning. I think the saddest thing about our incredibly wasteful ‘a piece of crap for every need, and a need for every piece of crap’ society is the loss of ingenuity. We need that back. We need inventive problem solving and the answers that can’t be found on a store shelf. I believe what has driven human evolution is cleverly reasoning through challenges on a daily basis. Not by putting a man on the moon (though that was amazing) or by inventing the Polio vaccine (though that was world changing) but through everyday people constantly involving themselves with ideas. It took us from ape hood; and now we sit in apathetic lumps watching “Real Housewives” and googling cat jokes. I hope everyone can reawaken their minds to IDEAS – technical, social, philosophical, it doesn’t matter. My wish is for the 1st world to reawaken. The renaissance is not dead, just on hiatus ….. and now that people of every gender and colour are invited to the party, OH what we could do!
10. I think the meaning of life is waking up every day believing that I have the potential to grow, learn, evolve, do a good deed, or better myself in some way. I might not actually accomplish that. I might wake up and yell at the kids, and give some speeder the finger before it’s even 9 in the morning but at least there’s potential; and that’s magic.
11. Spell correct is a sanctimonious bully which I could not live without. Pfffft. (And it just told me Pffft is spelled wrong but it SO ISN’T! Pffft.)
12. I am my own worst enemy; my harshest critic. I can wage such war on myself. Whenever I find myself in a room full of really cool, or smart, or influential people I still move about wondering what the hell I’m doing there, and how I’m so out of my element, and that I don’t belong. Pffft. Moving on, into my 41st year, I want to make peace with myself. Helen Keller famously wrote “I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it is my chief duty to accomplish small tasks as if they were great and noble.” I think that may be the secret, as these words ring prophetically true to me.
13. I have the best parents in the world. My goal is to be as caring, tireless, and empathetic as they are. Don’t get me wrong, my screwed-up-ness is totally their fault but they made my childhood fun and always had room for everyone in their life and home and taught me that kindness is messy and totally worth it.
14. When I was a child, I was an easy target. I’ve never been pretty or thin or dressed fashionably or run with the “in crowd”. And that wouldn’t have bothered me but kid’s pointing it out all the time did. It really hurt. Sometimes all that was left was to separate myself from the even less cool kids. I didn’t stand up for them because I was just grateful when it wasn’t me. Being silent and distant made me part of the problem, part of the meanness. It’s really important to know which side you’re standing on, and I DID know. I still swim in guilt over that. I cannot, ever again, be the kid who wouldn’t stand up for another. It’s part of me now and it’s the only way I know to move forward.
Kid’s today are so much deeper than we were; their oceans so much wider – we must be careful what we fill that ocean with. Children today seem much more capable of compassion and strength and bravery then when I was young. The way children can support each other in the face of a bully astounds me. Yet so too are the bullies of today more fierce, more deliberate, more cruel and sometimes kids still feel so alone. I hope I can make my children strong enough to never leave a friend alone or a class mate in despair, and most of all I hope they will have the strength never stand on the wrong side.
15. Wine and chocolate are delicious. Liver is not delicious.
16. If I had one wish from a genie I would probably just wish that humans could let the hard questions have hard answers and lighten up over the small questions with simple answers. We seem to have it all backwards. Life is complicated and challenging and fraught with misstep and misfortune and the only way through it is to support one another. We agonize over the easy questions “should we order the red or blue car?” “what house should we buy or school should we choose?” In the end, whatever school or house you choose, you must get on with the business of being in it happily and as for the car – who cares? The hard questions of life: who to love, whether to have children, whether to marry or divorce, get an abortion, what to devote your life to, allowing yourself pleasure at times yet balancing it with joyful giving of service; all these things are big and hard. Why are we so quick to judge someone else’s hard choices? There is a lack of compassion there that is stunning to me …… and so very sad. Living life requires more empathy than that to be good at it. Implying that there is an easy solution to someone who is dealing with a life changing dilemma can be very, very cruel. In fact the word Dilemma means “a forced choice between two (or more) courses of action which are equally disfavored or favored” and most languages have a word or phrase for it. I suppose everyone has lines they will not cross for themselves. They should not draw those lines for others except when we can as a society agree on one and make it law, and even then we must commit to changing the law if it can be proven unjust. I know I go back and forth on the issue of Capital punishment as there are many humans who I believe can never be made good, but I could not be the one to ‘administer the needle’ so how can I expect someone else to? But I could probably do it for someone I loved very, very much and who had clearly expressed that they were done with this life and were truly ready to leave it. I think I could probably hold their hand and tell them I loved them and help them go ….. maybe. A dilemma, to be sure, and one that says so much about how personal our views on quality of life and about living with our choices are, don’t you think? I think if you are living with an open heart and mind then the “answers” should never be decided before the question is asked, all you can hope is that if life ever asks you the hard questions, you will find the hard answers that are right for you and be supported by the people in your life.
17. I think I am missing a consumer bone or something. Don’t get me wrong, I am as terrible with money as the next person, but ‘name brand’ clothes or status cars hold nothing for me. I just don’t get the attraction. If I can get a perfectly good pair of pants for $44 then spending $244 seems just silly (maybe not silly IF you could say that $244 pants were made in nonexploitive workplaces – but that’s rarely the case)…….. and someone spending $444 for a pair of pants makes me think that social services should take away those people’s children because that’s just really poor life skills.
It’s not just the money thing either; it’s the whole concept of “trends” that rings false and shallow to me. A thing of beauty to you may be very expensive or worth nothing at all, but it should make something sing inside of you; you should love it on a personal, lasting level and not just until the next month’s magazine spread.
I could go on and on about this one but suffice to say I don’t typically try to fill the holes in my heart with things, and truly believe I am happier for it.
18. Love is slow and warm. It’s an easy friendship with fair compromises. It’s your real laugh and your snottiest heaving sobs. I am so lucky to have Mark to snot on and laugh with.
19. I was “beautiful” once, in the way that all young insecure girls who believe they are hideous, are beautiful. And those boys who hurt me weren’t fit to lick my boot heels. But they taught me valuable lessons. They taught me that youthful ragged wounds do heal, and the scars look very small on a grown up soul. They taught me that there is a light inside all of us and if you harden your heart around it you will snuff it out and become empty; darkened. But if you persist, keep your heart open and (yes) vulnerable, and try to keep a sight line on who you want to BE, and if you are very, very, lucky and loved, it will shine on.
20. I am not special. Neither are you. But I AM important. So are you. I, we, must learn to walk the Earth knowing both those statements are true for everyone. Mr Rogers summed it up so much more beautifully though. He said “Our world hangs like a magnificent jewel in the vastness of space. Every one of us is a part of that jewel. A facet of that jewel. And in the perspective of infinity, our differences are infinitesimal.”
21. I still can’t say “Vagina” in public without feeling embarrassed. I know we’re all supposed to use the correct words, and I totally agree, but my stomach still jumps up into my throat when I say “Vagina”.
22. I blush. Does anyone blush anymore??? Good grief. I’m a blusher.
23. You can’t make the stock market make sense for me. Don’t even try. They say a company that makes a good product, pays its workers a decent living wage, is conscious of safety and environmental impact, and makes a bit of a “profit” at the end of the day, but doesn’t “grow” is bad. But a company, who makes shit, pays shit, spills shit, dumps shit, and stands for shit, is good because it makes ever increasing amounts of money. This happens when some greedy opportunist tells a bunch of other greedy opportunists to buy the stock. Then when all the greedy opportunists add up their stocks they add up to WAY more than the ‘shit factory’ could EVER be sold for in a million years but they don’t even question it because some other greedy expert opportunist says “well, someone like you couldn’t possibly understand the complexities of the market …… blah blah blah.” …………… Pffft.
24. There is nothing unnatural about being a grownup who is attracted or not to other grownups. Being straight, gay, asexual, bisexual, whatever, is natural. I know this. People need to stop hurting each other over this issue. End of story. If you’re not gay, then don’t be gay but don’t tell someone else that they are less than you because they are. It’s unbelievably hurtful, and unbelievably stupid. Stop. Uncle. Time Out.
25. We need to get serious about protecting the Earth from ourselves. Whether you argue it from the stand point of water, or resource management, or sustainability, or ethics we must slow down and consider what we are doing.
26. Whoever said that “when a woman has her first child, 2 people are born, the mother and the child” could not have been more right.
27. Someone should have told me that after you have 2 babies you will often pee your pants for no reason. Well, there’s a reason like sneezing or laughing or running but no reasonable reason. Pffft.
28. I don’t want to be ‘that Mom’ at the pool who has pubic hair escaping out of the sides of her suit and long armpit hair. I get the natural thing, but I don’t want to BE ‘that lady’. So I will “maintain” the body hair, you know for the kid’s sakes………….. at least until I’m 75, then screw it, I’m going to grow it like it’s my job.
29. When I have a bad day with the boys. I yell, they fight, no one eats their dinner, and someone pees on the toilet seat, …… you know, that day. I tuck them in and kiss them, but I don’t mean it. And then, as if compelled, I think of my parent’s neighbours whose only 2 children died of cystic fibrosis within a few years of each other. And then I think how they would probably move heaven and Earth just to have my worst day with my boys with their daughters ……and I go upstairs and kiss them and kiss them and kiss them. I love them so much and am so very lucky.
30. I have personally never felt more beautiful, powerful, or feminine than when I was breast feeding my babies. I whipped my boobs out everywhere and anywhere my babies needed me to. The hang up people have in our society over BOOBS and BABES has got to stop. Get over it people.
31. Laugh lines are beautiful. There is nothing more beautiful than someone who smiles with their whole face.
32. I am an atheist. If god herself came down and said “In your face chickie! I’m real!” I would be shocked, and then I would say “but I wouldn’t have lived my life any differently if I had known.” I try to live everyday gratefully. If I get up each morning and can’t make the world a little better, at least I can try to NOT make it worse. I do that for myself. I would hope that would be enough. I simply don’t need a deity to be compelled to try to do the right thing, and I hope you don’t either. If it helps you, then good, have at ‘er but if it’s fear of hell that motivates you then I just don’t get it. I can’t wrap my head around that. For most of the people I know, all that really separates us is a belief in the afterlife; they believe their soul will cross over into one and I believe when I die the energy which makes my soul mine will simply dissipate into nothingness and into everythingness. That’s all. Otherwise we all just try to live our lives. Fred Rogers (Mr. Rogers) is perhaps my favourite modern philosopher and writer, and it is most certainly a huge personal inspiration, and he was a Minister, and he was a beautiful human being. The fact that he believed and I didn’t would not have stopped us from finding much common ground on how to treat people here is this world and how to live here in this world. All I can wish is for people to find a faith or ethical belief system that comforts, inspires, and celebrates what rings true for them and then within that find room for flexibility, acceptance, and intelligence. Many of the believers and non-believers I know have found that. But I can’t abide by rejection and exclusion of others, or denial of powerful science and beautiful difference. And the thing is, I don’t want to be comforted by the fact that if I unquestioningly follow a set of rules I’ll end up in an afterlife with only the people who are just like me. I just never liked the idea of leaving good people with good hearts behind. For me faith is my belief that mankind is moving towards a “Heaven-right-here-on-Earth” altogether. And that Heaven is one where we can BE together in peace and acceptance with our differences intact right here on Earth. For me, faith is believing (despite knowing I’ll never see it) that mankind will get there one day.
33. I don’t care how rich you are, or well spoken, or creative, or driven. If a group of workers fling themselves off the top of one of your factory roofs to protest inhumane work conditions and your response is just to put up nets, then you are not a good person. I know we need to demand more humanity from our “leaders” and I don’t know why we aren’t doing that. That’s my disappointment with modern humans that I wrestle the most with.
34. A gun has never ever, ever ever, ever solved a problem that could not have been solved a better, more peaceful way.
35. Whether we measure it in calories, or weight, or volume, the world produces enough food to feed everyone. Yet starvation and malnourishment is still the planets leading health risk. We can fix this, we just don’t. The only things I can think of to do is to talk about it often to my kids, try to keep my need/want filter in check, and live gratefully. It’s not much, but it’s better than the feeling of despair that envelops me when I think about it otherwise.
36. I am not half the mother that the women who leave their babies and children and come to Canada to work as nannies (so they can give their children a better life back home) are. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t miss mine growing up. I am too selfish. These women are not given the honour, respect, or credit they deserve. I think that in general we don’t give working people the respect they deserve. Every job has nobility, and has the potential to achieve excellence within it, and yet we look down our noses at the people who do the jobs we wouldn’t do. The very jobs that are most vital to our day to day sense of “civility” are often the lowest paid, and frequently the most disrespected. Think: custodian, gas station attendant, garbage man, etc, etc. Think any job that is out in the cold, or requires infinite patience, or ability to cope with unpleasantness; these are the people who make the world tick. So many take great pride in the fact that they do their job well so the LEAST we owe them is our respect. The fact that we don’t recognize the value of their work makes me very sad.
37. When I view the world as a big cold place that doesn’t play fair, I feel small, I feel scared. George Carlin said “always do whatever is next” and this, though he meant it to be funny, was sage advice. The way through fear is just to get to the next moment of life, to laugh, to act, to persevere. When I feel small I often find that what actually makes me feel better is when I say “things should be better” and then go out and find people who make that true. I feel best when around people who act with concern, caring, and above all joy. The trick, I think, is to trust that all the little problems that get solved, tears wiped, shoulders cried on, mouths fed, hugs given, litter picked up, wrongs challenged, laughs evoked … all add up to something BIG and we don’t need to see what that big thing is. When we work together on some small problem, in some small corner, the world itself gets smaller; I love that. I am so grateful for these people who keep my world small and warm and just. (This is from my Christmas letter this year but lately it has felt like my mission statement. It’s a fulcrum to help me stay engaged in the world yet joyful in life. Finding that balance is crucial for me to remain who I am, or least moving towards who I want to be.)
38. I love to laugh. It’s my favourite activity. I wish it were an Olympic event. I think great comedians are the highest form of our ‘so called’ evolved species, because the best ones are heart and soul and joy and intelligence and observation and truth at the point of intersection. And that’s amazing.
39. Happiness is a choice. My life could not be more perfect, and that’s why Happiness is a choice for me. If it wasn’t so perfect I don’t know that I am strong enough to get up every morning and make that choice. As it is I have mood swings and freak outs, panic attacks and anger; what if something really bad happened? Could I do it? I don’t know; but not without positive caring people telling me that the world is still a good place and still worth making better, even just by being a good person in it. The people I know who constantly lob negative criticisms out into the world, with no purpose or intent to make it better, wouldn’t help. I know that. So I try not to be that person myself. I won’t hesitate to say something negative if I think something can be made better, kinder, lifted, or challenged, but if I ever just start bitching and whining about stuff I don’t like for no reason, then please tell me to shut my cake hole.
40. Cake. Mmmmmmmmmm. Cake, even Gluten free cake, is delicious.