They say 1963 was the year everything happened — Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, the beginning of Beatlemania, and the assassination of John F. Kennedy, to name a few.
For me, in a quieter way and without fanfare or media coverage, it was the beginning of everything earthside…a.k.a. birth.
Five and a half decades later, I’m staring down the fact that I’ll be eligible for rounding up to the big 6–0 in a few weeks. Somehow that makes 55 seem so much older than 54.
I could be depressed — I am starting to sound like a bonafide middle-ager — achey this and regretting that. I could experience my shortening mortality like ominous hot breath on my neck. But, truth is, I’m kind of fascinated.
Sure, the mirror is all too frank these mornings. When did that begin to sag, too? And the gray hairs and stray hairs? It feels like I can’t keep up.
None of this is going to ruin my birthday, though, or my radiant plans for the next 12 months and beyond. There’s just so doggone much to be thankful for, so much I’ve finally gotten straight.
Although they haven’t all been consistently (or especially) graceful or glorious, my 20,000+ days of living (so far) have been perfect for what I needed to learn.
Here’s my list, in no particular order. I’d love to have you read and add to it.
- I know this is my life, my chance, my choice of how to live. Thank goodness the days when someone else’s big ideas dictated my direction are in the past. It’s simple cosmic physics: God granted me breath, and I’m going to breathe it, long and deep.
- As this birthday approaches, I know who my allies are: generally happy, centered, appreciative, healthy-living, generous folks. They aren’t without trouble and setbacks — they’re just the kind of people I want to be, so that’s who I choose to spend most of my time with.
- I am grateful. Last week, two friends’ spouses began chemo. Another was diagnosed with a very sick heart. Every shot at 24 more hours is a gift.
- I am inexhaustible. This isn’t that I don’t get tired or weary. I do. The scope of my self is inexhaustible. When I don’t like what I am, I ask a whole lot of questions and get busy finding answers. And, when I’m satisfied that I know what’s really going on inside, I get to work seeking help, making changes, praying down power beyond my own. It feels awesome to build a road where I used to believe there were dead-end signs.
- I prefer seeing people as people more and people as stereotypes, caricatures, and categories less. Maybe it’s because I’ve shaken a lot of hands and heard a lot of stories, or maybe it’s because of study with The Arbinger Institute and Carol Dweck’s mindset materials, but I rarely, rarely trust sweeping negativity when it comes to estimating people…including when it’s my own initial estimate.
- I’m finally balanced enough to treat myself to chocolate without guilt and smart enough to make it Green & Black’s. (Check it out. You’ll see what I mean.) I also get that rarely makes a treat a treat.
- I vote. This allows me the full right to scrutinize and comment on politicians’ choices. I also volunteer in campaigns. This gives me deeper insight into what is actually going on.
- I pray — daily, often, for real. Life is much, much too unpredictable, challenging and wonderful to go it alone or trust mere mortals (like my fallible self) with it. Not sure how it works? This song is a good tutorial.
- I’m not too proud to shop at thrift stores, and the reason may surprize you: I refuse to be defined by anyone’s fashion trend, season or label. It’s adventure shopping, really: I look hard, choose what I love, wash everything well, and own gems that give me pleasure, help charities, and look honest…and leave plenty of cash for Green and Black’s or books for my favourite little library in Guatemala. Plus, I give away anything that’s no longer me or my fit.
- I eat healthy as a matter of principle, like telling the truth. My food philosophy is simple: it’s either a plus or a minus. Sometimes for relationship reasons the late-night pizza with my teen or sharing a dessert with my spouse is a plus. Some days, it’s a minus. I have the power to think these things through, and I do.
- I don’t gamble with sleep. It matters like clean air and water. Everything is more visible through a full night’s rest.
- I’ve come to peace that my people are my people, even when we’re not getting along. As a younger, more alarmable person, I felt like jettisoning the difficult ones. I’m glad I didn’t. I’m glad we’re still together, muddling, forgiving, and figuring out what to do when things get edgy.
- Love is nothing like I thought it was. Romantic love is harder. Mother-love is more intense and indelible. Friend love is easier than ever. Stranger love is possible. Why is this? I don’t know. I think it has something to do with authenticity when I’m with others. I don’t pretend much any more, except in creative writing. Honesty like that in relationships is hard for some, but because it’s love we have in common, it’s all good…eventually.
- Hate is poison. Let the wind carry it away. It’s much easier to deal with confusion, disappointment, shock, hurt, bewilderment, frustration, doubt, humiliation, and fear when hate is NOT in the mix. Even if all you can do is stay in personal respect or hold on to love of God, it can be a preventative of poisoning oneself.
- “Mankind (is) my business. The common welfare (is) my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, benevolence, (are) all my business. The dealings of my trade (are) but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!” (Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol)
- On that point, I can learn from the dead and from the fictional. Every life is a lesson in itself, or a set of lessons. Without hard feelings or hero worship, I can make those lives my teachers. Same with made-up characters who are really just a composite of an author’s experience ranging through humanity.
- Trash is trash. Just say “no.”
- It’s better to do the dishes at night and wake up to a clean kitchen. Pretty much always, you have to be your own shoemaker’s elves.
- Make sure you like your underwear. It’s the first thing to wrap itself around your wondrous body when you’re newly clean. Make the moment an experience. You’ll feel better regardless of what the day brings.
- Every fruit is a miracle. Really, think on this: they come with cases, are packed with minerals and vitamins in purified water, sweep your insides clean, fuel your dreams, fend off sickness, and tickle your tongue. And, there are SO MANY to choose from. Fruit was a very good idea.
- Elderly people want and need love, too. Heck, I’m a hop-skip-and-a-jump away from elderly myself. What’s going to happen between now and then that I won’t want cuddling and conversation and someone who cares?
- Children renew us. As a mother of many (you wouldn’t believe how many if I told you), I have definitely felt depleted by the work of caring for young ones. I’ve also been renewed by their presence in my world. When we keep children in our lives — and give some of our life to them — we find refreshment for all our senses and for our worldview. Children notice, and experience, like no others.
- Time spent with teens is a full-on investment in their future. Go to your niece’s game, or your nephew’s performance. Be present with your kids. See all the superhero sagas with them. Stay up late to chat. Find out what they love and try to appreciate it, too. Taking teens seriously is one of my best middle-aged choices.
- Kissing never gets old, especially as I get older. (Surprized, younger people? Me, too, a little. I think this has a lot to do with unpacking the full meanings of intimacy. I wrote about this here, a bit.)
- Classics are anything worth spending our time with (and returning to again and again) because each time we do they deepen us. I try to spend my discretionary time with classics so I never reach bottom, fortify myself often, and always have room to expand.*
- People can be classics, as per #25. So can art paraphernalia, gardening supplies, musical instruments, and power tools.*
- It’s possible to love more people than I ever thought possible.
- Speeding while driving is a flagrant disregard for the lives of others. Just slow down. Stay alert. Drive like you’re in charge of a killing machine, because you are.
- World peace is no more important than peace at home.
- If I don’t like it, I don’t have to eat it, and I don’t have to make not eating it a negative for anyone. Just be thankful and decline. That said, veggies are your body’s best friends.
- Every.single.mortal practises bias. For example, it may seem wicked of media to have a slant or an agenda, but they are in the business of making money and are human. That’s not giving them a pass, but what can we expect? Just know that bias exists, and keep your inputs and sources many.
- Singing is not just for vocalists. Sing out. Sing to free whatever that emotion is that keeps you bound. Sing to give thanks. Sing to calm yourself and others. Sing because you can.
- Some fashion really does look better on other bodies. (Tip #9 can help with this.)
- Putting our hands in soil with the intention of nurturing growing things makes us co-creators. The feeling that comes with doing this is indescribably grounding and elating.
- People usually feel completely justified in their opinions and actions. Instead of trying to change their minds, we can try to understand their motivations and reasoning. It’s a courtesy we love for ourselves, right?
- Night owls can become morning birds. And probably should. Clarity comes with the light.
- Words carry meaning, and meaning does have the power to break spirits. “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me” is for robots.
- Forgiveness is for us, not even primarily for the perpetrator.
- Real beauty comes from standing in the right light.
- There are moral absolutes:
It is never right to harm a child.
It is never right to hurt the defenseless.
Life is holy. Don’t take it, or treat it, lightly.
We reap what we sow.
- When we receive with grateful hands, we cultivate generosity.
- Healthy posture suggests that we are taking on life without letting it weigh us down, which — in turn — gives us an air of confidence to meet the challenges that come. Stand tall.
- Alone doesn’t have to mean lonely. And lonely makes a great alarm clock for compassion toward others who may also be lonely…whether or not they are alone.
- I am happier being a “peoplist” than being a feminist. Of course this depends on definitions of both terms, but I’ve learned that the oppression of others and the pursuit of redress for the sake of “getting even” are both diminishing activities for me. What works better is an optimistic outlook on the power of people to get their acts together when sufficiently aware and motivated. A world of good will be accomplished when we stop looking down on and focus on lifting up.
- Love languages are real. Fluency in love languages takes daily practice, conscientious introspection and observation of the other person. When someone really feels like they’re being “heard,” relationship health goes up.
- Dogs have more reliable character than humans. They are unfailingly loyal. We could learn from them.
- Tragedy is a very close cousin of spiritual enlightenment.
- Dysfunction and “disease” in society can be directly traced to roots in home life. It is crucial for us to believe that, grant it to others, and do something about it.
- The core texts of religious traditions are the records of humankind’s most earnest attempts to communicate with God. We would do well to listen in on those conversations and learn from them.
- Turning 55 reminds me that I am a traveler in the cycle of life. Not only am I propelled forward by the life gifts of others on my way to the future, I am a contributor to the quality of the journey in both directions — to the past (my parents, elders, mentors) and to the future (children, their children, the generations to come who will touch my descendants’ lives.) This means a lot: Call home. Visit the grandkids. Take an interest in seniors. Stop being selfish. Think generationally. Act like there are consequences. Be present. Plan a legacy. Forge a strong link.
- Being grumpy — like the archetypal cranky middle-aged person who is out of touch with anything but his/her own deal — is an awful place to arrive and a worse place from which to launch one’s mature years. I don’t want to go there or be there. I have power to reinvent myself from whatever state I was in to one that is bursting with vibrant faith and determination to make every moment a good one.
- Writing down what I’ve learned may or may not be useful to some future reader, but it sure is helpful to me now. Journal.
- Movement keeps me breathing, puts new sights before my eyes, cleans up my system and cells, and sculpts my shape as a doer. I will not sit still and let gravity and degeneration master me.
- My best “diet” tip? Don’t count calories; make every calorie count. Eat like a champion…a grateful, constantly training (self-educating) one. It’s the micro version of our whole existence: Don’t count hours, days or years — make every hour, day or year count.
- Believe there is good to come. Even in my darker times, this has proven true. Be confident in God’s grace…but get up and be an agent for better days so he knows we’re on the same team.
Now it’s your turn.
Please add to the list! What’s something you’ve learned over your lifetime (so far) that you’re willing to share? Feel free to email me at heather(at)heatherburton(dot)ca!
Looking forward to reading!
*Credit for this idea goes to Oliver DeMille who shared it with me.