My mother in law called me last week and asked me what kind of cake I wanted her to make for my birthday. She asks all of us kids and the grandkids that question a few days before our birthdays. In fact, when we celebrated her birthday at our house a few months ago, she offered to bake her own cake. “No, Linda, you can not bring your own birthday cake!” She baked a carrot cake for me, by the way, as I’m sure you were wondering. She also asked me if I wanted to go out for dinner or if I wanted to have dinner at their house. Linda knows how anti-social I can be, so I’m pretty sure she already knew the answer. So a quiet dinner it was. Only on Facebook does one’s birthday become a national event, with “friends” in nearly all fifty states clogging one’s profile with birthday wishes. I suppose that’s event enough for me. I had a wonderful time, of course. They are two of the best conversationalist I’ve ever met and the time I spent talking to them, my husband, and daughter tonight brought to mind a few things I’ve learned along the way. You don’t mind if I dispense a few here do ya?
So, here it is:
Five things I’ve learned in nearly four decades from making mistakes…some of them a few times, learning from them, and moving on.
Some people mistake being jaded for possessing wisdom. Life experiences and making mistakes gives a person wisdom. So does successfully rearing children, hard work, surviving or battling chronic illness, triumph over the loss of employment, a child, a spouse, close friend, or relative, the dissolution of a marriage, and self-sacrifice, among many other life changing and pivotal moments. The news media, Hollywood film makers, and primetime television strive to desensitize us to human suffering, murder and death, the breakdown of the family, and the ridicule of religion. Some are then convinced they have a firmer grasp of what encompasses true humanity when that which is sacrosanct is shown from a dark, gritty, warped, or perverted perspective. If we didn’t care what others thought or depend on them to tell us how to think and feel, the movie industry wouldn’t be the multi-trillion dollar industry it is, nor would there be 24 hour news channels. There is a cavernous difference between bitter, jaded disillusionment and wisdom gained from life experience. This took me years to learn. Many would rather parody and scorn religion or mock the self sacrifice involved in successful parenting than put in the work to learn the value of either. Wisdom is not found in a movie, a book, or a degree; it cannot be purchased.
I’m not fooled into believing that I, or a lot of the people around me, are rich, or even well off. If one graduates from college with the equivalent of a mortgage, he is not only unwise, but also not wealthy. Having no credit card, college, automobile, or mortgage debt, in conjunction with land ownership are true indications of monetary wealth. Financing a phone, dinner, or any form of entertainment is illusory wealth, and I’m certainly not fooled by it. The necessity of working for someone else in order to procure and maintain possession of “things” (and this includes a house, a car, and cheap technology) seems absurd, yet so many of us do it without question, and it’s a clear indication we are all indentured servants to those for whom we work, and essentially slaves to those “things.” How many of us can quit our jobs today? Not many, right? Terrible things would happen if we did. It’s time we started questioning why we do some of the things we do. It used to be that owning land was integral to the American dream. Somewhere along the way, that idea became unimportant for several reasons. Land became too expensive due to urban and industrial sprawl, people forgot the value of working their land and succumbed to the specious idea that industrialization was the path to wealth, when in fact, industrialization has contributed more to the rise of poverty than any agrarian lifestyle. The concept of home ownership, too, is quickly losing its appeal. Housing prices are soaring, foreclosures are rampant, and consumer credit card debt has made it impossible to borrow the money to buy a home, so the idea of not owning a home has become analogous to a sour grapes notion. People would rather charge or spend the only four hundred dollars they have in a few seconds on a cell phone that will be obsolete or broken in six months than save a few years longer to own land, a home, or a business. Impetuous self gratification has taken a strong hold on us, and we will suffocate in its grip. Spending is the illusion of wealth; wise investing is the true semblance of it. Again, I speak from experience, as I had made, and slowly rectified bad financial decisions and realized many years ago that I would not have more money next month than I do this month to “pay for” a financed trinket.
There will be people who don’t like you or love you, and they don’t need to have a reason. Arrogant is a person who believes everyone likes them. Also arrogant is the notion someone needs to have a reason not to like you or that the reason, should it exist at all, is about you. There will be people along the way who will just not like you. Period. You can “kill ’em with kindness,” ignore them, lose sleep over it, plead with them, maybe even cry about it…but at the end of the day, they still won’t like you. You have to get over it. Right now. Not in a few weeks, a month, or a year when the sting of rejection slowly diminishes. That’s a toughy…everyone wants to be loved.
I choose not to go out of my way to be shocked or offended. One day last week a co-worker suggested I follow Jesus Christ on Twitter. “It’s hilarious!” he said. I’m not sure if he knows I am Catholic, so I suppose he was taking the chance that I held no religious conviction and perhaps suggested I laugh at Jesus Christ to establish some level of camaraderie. Perhaps he knew I was and wanted to belittle my beliefs. I honestly believe he wasn’t trying to be insulting, so either way, I didn’t dwell on the juxtaposition of these points long and here’s why: I will not be lead into believing that I need to be offended in order to find humor in something–especially through the mockery of religion. In my teens and early twenties, I recall instances when I was cajoled into believing that writers or comedians who rejected the mere idea of God were not only funny, but insightful, thought provoking, and wise. Back then someone decided for me what was funny. These days I get to decide what’s funny. And that ain’t it.
I also like that I can still be offended. It reminds me that not only can I be wise enough to know when I am being offended, but I can maintain some innocence at not having “seen it all.” I like that.
Busy work is pointless under any circumstances, but physical labor is not only significant, but necessary. I’ve had more jobs than my daughter has had birthdays, and busy work was not only present in every one of those jobs, but a sine qua non of each job, and a large one at that. It ensures that no real work will ever get done. Very few jobs are exempt from monotonous repetition, endless documentation, or mountains of paperwork–or a combination of all three. I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve spent doing meaningless busy work, getting paid for it, and then going home exhausted and defeated because I accomplished nothing. Hard, physical labor, on the other hand, is always significant. Gardening, farming, house building, and yes, unloading and loading trucks are just a few examples of hard work that is necessary and productive. And if you suffer from insomnia, an effective cure is hard, physical work.
Tonight I was surrounded by those I love, ate food prepared by the hands of two of the most beautiful and and generous people I know. I blew out two candles on my cake(one was from when my daughter turned eight and one was from when my nephew turned three, I think) and joked that their home owner’s insurance probably didn’t cover a fire that might occur from actually extinguishing 38 candles. That’s ok…I’m a little smarter, wiser, and healthier than I’ve ever been…and, um…still not forty.
©Mary Flanagan Taylor