I have no intention of buying a single gift this holiday season. No, I’m not Scrooge. No, I’m not a bitter, lonely person. I’ve just outgrown the love of stuff, and am no longer a member of the cult of crass consumerism.
My husband and I are more into experiences than objects. My dogs don’t distinguish one day from the next. I have no children, and my parents have passed away. My niece and nephew are independent adults. My sister and I are long past the whole present buying thing. Thank heavens I wasn’t born into a family that takes the gift exchange to an extreme, buying for aunts, uncles, and cousins. And my fellow bridgetenders can’t be bothered with secret Santa. (Yay!) I don’t even mail out Christmas cards.
Yes, we’ll get a tree and decorate the house with lights. We will have a nice meal. We’ll listen to carolers and go to festivals and check out Christmas decorations in town. We’ll probably watch It’s a Wonderful Life while sitting in front of a nice fire. We might make a batch of cookies.
We keep Christmas in our own way. It doesn’t come wrapped in pretty paper. It’s not covered in ribbons and bows. But it will be merry in spite of, and perhaps even because of, that.
I have a friend who will not go to restaurants that specialize in food from other cultures. He’s perfectly content with his hamburgers and his French fries and his macaroni and cheese. He likes his vegetables plain and unseasoned, with no fancy sauces, and his salads should only contain lettuce, tomatoes, and cucumber. He can’t imagine how a vegetarian entrée could be as satisfying as steak and potatoes, and he certainly won’t try something that he couldn’t figure out how to prepare himself.
I weep for him.
Eating like that would be akin to living in a library and only reading The Great Gatsby. Great book, and all, but oh, what you are missing! What adventures, what knowledge, what delights are set before you! How can you ignore them?
I also have friends who have never bothered to get a passport. What would be the point? They have no curiosity whatsoever about the wider world. And it’s not a financial issue. They can afford to travel. They just choose not to. It’s maddening.
These friends appear content. And I do envy the fact that they seem to be convinced that they’ve found everything they could ever need or want out of life. That confidence is not mine.
But I think I’d find their lives extremely boring. I enjoy having new experiences. No, I don’t love every single thing I try. (One word: Wasabi.) But I never regret trying.
I like to go places where I’ve never been. I love learning about different points of view. I adore new sights, sounds, tastes.
Life is a fully stocked buffet laid out before you. What a gift! Revel in the abundance! Don’t just stop and smell the roses. Check out the corpse flowers, too, if you get a chance, just to see what their stinky smell is like.
Be adventurous. Eat life! Because this delicious buffet is only opened to you for a finite amount of time. And there’s nothing worse than wasting food.
A few weeks ago, I wrote The Geometry of Love, about a living demonstration of how all of us cross paths in random ways, and as we do, our influence widens. The demonstration has certainly had an impact on me in terms of how I view the world. But there was one detail I left out at the time, because it was a profound experience, and I needed time to digest it.
I didn’t participate in the experiment myself. I observed from the sidelines. But when they were asking for volunteers, I noticed an elderly couple sitting in front of me. Her arm shot up right away. She looked like she was in her late 80’s. She might have been 4’6” tall, and as fragile as a baby bird. Her husband grabbed her arm and tried to talk her out of it, because it involved spinning, and it was extremely obvious that this woman had balance issues. But no, she was anxious to get in there and participate. And so she did. He looked on with concern, but he didn’t stop her.
As she spun and wove amongst the other participants, she had a look of pure delight on her face. It made me smile. She was living her life, and having new experiences. But halfway through the demo, she came back to her seat and held her husband’s hand. She knew her limits.
I sat behind her and thought, “Wow. I want to be that woman in 30 years. I want to get in there and still try new things, even if it’s perhaps more of a challenge than I may be capable of meeting. I want to interact. I want to experience life. I want to go, and do, and see, and feel, and touch. I don’t want my advanced age to be my cage.”
But I also want someone to look out for me. I want him not to hold me back, but I want him to care, and I want him to be a safe place to return to when I realize I’ve gone as far as I can go. I want someone who will still hold my hand in my 80’s.
I’m proud to say that I’m pretty positive that I’ve found that man, dear reader, and I’m marrying him today. It just goes to show that it’s never too late to find your person. Wish me luck!
“My coworker is a slob. She says she cleans up after herself, but she doesn’t. I can tell. She has no respect for me, or for the job. She has a bad attitude. She can’t be trusted.”
Wow. I’d hate to work with someone like that! It must be so frustrating. That can’t be doing good things for your morale.
Here’s the problem with that assessment, though. It includes no fewer than 6 assumptions. The speaker is viewing those assumptions as fact. Let’s pull back the veil and look at the actual situation.
Your coworker isn’t more or less sloppy than the average person. You, in fact, are obsessive compulsive and hypervigilant. She does clean up after herself. It’s just that by the time you come along, several other people have been in the work area, and your coworker has no control over that. The state of the office is not a reflection of her respect or lack thereof. She actually loves the job and takes it very seriously. Her attitude is quite good, but she admittedly is on the defensive in your presence because her experience with you is that you are judgmental. She’s extremely trustworthy. (You might want to ask yourself if you find it possible to completely trust anyone.)
That kind of sheds a different light on the subject, doesn’t it? We all see the world through different lenses. We are the sum total of our past experiences. We all have our weaknesses and strengths.
Viewing assumptions as truths is life’s shorthand. It sure makes things go faster… but often in the wrong direction. As a coping mechanism, it does not serve us well. But it takes practice, being self-critical.
When is the last time you asked yourself what proof you had for a particular conclusion? How do you know people are thinking what you think they’re thinking? Have you asked? Mind reading is a heady power, but it’s the worst assumption of all.
Another assumption would be that I’m an expert at identifying my assumptions simply because I’m writing a post on the topic. On the contrary, I struggle with this concept on a daily basis. I’d like to think that I’m getting better at separating fact from fiction, but I suspect this will be a lifelong exercise in self-improvement, and one that’s entirely too important to pass over.
I was completely befuddled when I heard that expression for the first time the other day. But once it was explained to me, it immediately became part of my personal philosophical handbook. We should all live our dashes.
Imagine your tombstone. It will include the date you were born, a dash, and the date you died. That dash is your life. Your whole entire life, boiled down to one tiny symbol on a tombstone. That’s pretty sobering.
You are the only one who will know what that dash has meant, from beginning to end. Only you will have borne witness to every millimeter of it. The good, the bad, and the ugly. The joyous. The profound. The horrible. The intense. The amazing.
That dash will be made up of all your risks and opportunities and triumphs and failures. It will sum up all your achievements. It will mark your generosity and your selfishness, your inspiration and your despair. It will also include a lot of wasted time.
Try not to waste too much time. Make something outstanding of your dash. Live! Love! Travel! Experience as much as you possibly can.
Devour life. It’s the best gift you will ever be given. And the value of that gift will be what you make of it.
I bruise easily. So easily, in fact, that I think my sister worried for a time that I was a battered woman, when I truly wasn’t. I’m just a pale-skinned klutz, is all.
Quite often I can’t even say what caused a bruise. Many times, when I bump into a door knob (or whatever happens to be the offending solid), I say to myself, “I should write this down, because I’m going to be black and blue, and I’ll forget why.” But I never do. (Write it down, I mean. I pretty much always forget why.)
It kind of makes me wonder about the other forgotten bruises in my life– namely, the emotional ones. I know I’ve earned the right to be cautious in relationships, for example, but do I really remember all the causes for this caution? How will I ever know for sure?
Maybe that’s a blessing. I doubt many of us want to dwell on all the slings and arrows we’ve experienced in our lives. And I am grateful that I’m still willing to take a chance when a wonderful person crosses my path.
But on the other hand, it might be helpful to know why I’m overreacting in a certain situation, or why I’m making a choice that even I can see isn’t particularly rational. The bottom line is that we are all a product of our past experiences. The better you know yourself, the easier it will be to understand your gut reactions.
But I’m beginning to think that maybe it wouldn’t hurt to sometimes take that x factor into account: the forgotten bruises. They made an impact, too. And while it would be great to always know what makes you tick, the honest truth is that you won’t. Not always. That’s what makes us human. So be gentle with yourself, dear reader. Just do the best that you can.
I’ve been looking for you for years. I often wondered if you were right under my nose and I just wasn’t seeing you, or if I wasn’t looking in the right place. More than once I thought I saw you, and you just couldn’t or wouldn’t see me. I always wondered if you were reading my blog, which was the only way I knew how to show myself to the world.
Did we pass each other on the street without recognizing each other? I’d look into the faces of strangers, hoping they’d see me, really see me, and consider me worth the effort. I’m sure I looked like every other face in the crowd, but inside my head I was screaming, “Where are you?”
It’s been a long, lonely, painful slog. I know you’ve been looking for me, too. If you’re reading this, I’m just glad you’re finally here. All during the search, precious time was passing; this was time I could have been spending with you. It felt like such a missed opportunity.
Every time I saw something new, I wanted to share it with you. Every time I got good news, I wanted to tell you. Every time I hit a rough patch, I wished you were there to comfort me. And there were a lot of amazing experiences I passed up, simply because I didn’t want to go it alone. I hope we still have time to do those things. I hope you’ll want to.
All I’ve ever wanted, really, was someone to travel with, and take naps with, and be playful with and have intelligent conversations with. I’ve wanted someone brave enough to win over and love my psycho dog as much as I do (that alone will weed out the vast majority). I’ve wanted someone who looks forward to seeing me as much as I look forward to seeing him.
I wasn’t looking for glamor or perfection, just mutual acceptance. I want us both to be able to be ourselves. I want someone who gets me. I want us to be able to count on each other. I had that once, and it was abruptly taken away. (I just hate mortality, sometimes.) I miss it.
I want to create a safe and peaceful harbor, together. So if you’re reading this, thank you for showing up. I’m sorry for almost having given up on you. I should have had more faith. But having said that, what took you so long?
I have three degrees, and not one of them has helped me get a job. I’ve never worked in any of my fields of study. Never. If that’s your only yardstick for measuring a college education, then yeah, for me it was a monumental waste of time and money.
But I still maintain that college was the best thing I’ve ever done for myself. I would be a completely different person were it not for higher education. The impact it has had on me has been priceless.
First of all, dorm life is the perfect transitional period between living with your parents and entering the real world. You can try new things, have new experiences, and make truly epic mistakes while still being in a relatively supervised environment. It’s a very important rite of passage. Freedom with a bit of a safety net.
And I guarantee you that you will never find it that easy to make lifelong friends again. Something about pulling an all-nighter or sharing a room with someone bonds you. It’s hard to explain if you haven’t experienced it yourself.
And I truly believe that it’s nearly impossible to go to a university and come out without your horizons having been broadened. You are exposed to other cultures, different schools of thought, and controversial points of view. You learn to question authority and make informed decisions. You discover the importance of thinking outside the box.
Continuing a formal education past high school also helps you discover who you are. You spend time with different types of people. You have different successes and failures. Saying to yourself, “I’ll never do that again” is every bit as valuable as finding your niche or your calling.
Having that amazing 4 year span before the chains of life start weighing you down in the form of mortgage and debt and relationships and obligations and soul-crushing responsibilities is also invaluable. I miss that feeling of only being lightly tethered. I’d love to have it back.
And, yes, of course I learned things that are quantifiable. I speak Spanish. I know the difference between there, their, and they’re. I suspect that if necessary, I could still remember how to rappel down the side of a cliff. And the critical thinking skills that I perfected there have served me well every single day of my life.
So yes, move heaven and earth to go to college. Just be more realistic in your fields of study than I was. You will have to pay the bills eventually.
If you skip this precious milestone in life, you’ll be selling yourself short. And you’ll never know just how much more amazing you could have been. Go for it.
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As many of you know, I’ve been house hunting lately. I’m dreading the whole packing and moving thing, but it’s nice to think that my next move might just be my last. But who knows what the future holds?
That’s the exciting part. By moving, I’ll be changing my trajectory in life. I’ll be shopping at different stores, visiting different doctors and vets, going to different libraries and post offices. That means I’ll be meeting people I would not have met otherwise.
I’ll make some new friends, no doubt. Maybe one of them will consider me her best friend, which is a luxury I haven’t experienced since high school. Maybe I’ll finally meet another man who sees my value.
Either way, I will be taking a different route in life, and that’s always an adventure. It’s an opportunity to have new experiences and broaden my horizons and learn new things. I will create memories.
The future I’m creating today will become part of my history. It will shape me. I look forward to seeing what color my butterfly wings will be once I burst forth from my current chrysalis!
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When I was little, I used to fantasize about being locked in a mall after closing time. Of course, for this to work, none of the individual stores would be locked and there would be no security whatsoever. I’d get to spend the night going from shop to shop, getting anything I wanted for free. Clothes, toys, books… I’d also be able to eat whatever I wanted, and in the end, I could sleep in the mattress section of the biggest department store. I never gave much thought to what would happen the next morning.
Funny. My idea of heaven on earth at age nine is my idea of hell on earth now. I avoid malls whenever possible. If I wind up in one more than once a year, something has gone seriously wrong in my world.
The older I get, the less interested I am in accumulation. I recently went to a craft fair and enjoyed myself immensely. I liked seeing the creativity and admiring the craftsmanship, but not once did I have even the slightest desire to buy anything.
Stuff just doesn’t appeal to me anymore. I don’t think I’ve shopped until I’ve dropped since my early 20’s. Part of that is, of course, because finances are tight. But mostly I look at objects as things that I will have to lug to wherever my next address will be, and after having moved across country with a ton of crap that I’ve since disposed of, I just don’t see the point. The mere contemplation of the sheer weight of it all makes me tired.
Now I’d much rather collect digital photographs of my life experiences. I prefer to remember living rather than bury myself in a mound of possessions. I also pity the poor schmuck (likely my sister) who will have to sort through and dispose of all this junk when I shuffle off this cluttered mortal coil, so for her sake, I try to keep it to a minimum.
As I sit here, I can’t think of a single thing I want or need besides groceries. Because of that, I am more generous with myself when it comes to food. I try to buy local and organic whenever possible and cost be damned. I look forward to when my farmer’s market reopens for the season. I look at these purchases as gifts to myself, for my well-being. And the better I feel, the less I look to inanimate objects for my happiness. So it comes full circle.