I’m about to have another birthday.
Having been on the planet a respectable amount of time now, I know some stuff. It’s nothing too profound, like Love is all you need. Pithy sayings like that might make you feel all warm and fuzzy, but they are often untrue. Rather, the things I’ve learned over the last 35 years are more practical than that. You could even say mundane.
Anyway, these are all the things I know so far and try to apply to my own life. Maybe they’ll be helpful to you?
Stay to the right on the sidewalk. Just like with cars, faster people go around on the left. Also, don’t stop in the middle of the sidewalk to talk or pull up your pants; move to the side and flatten your body so you take up as little space as possible. Please curb your dog, too. (I’ve learned a lot about sidewalk etiquette living in NYC.)
Moisturize your neck. Put sunscreen on your hands. These are forgotten, neglected places. It can show.
Sit all the way down on the toilet in a public restroom. You’ll be fine.
Related: Clean up after yourself in a public bathroom. Come on. Leave things the same or better than how you found them.
Eat good food. Life’s too short and too precious for garbage. As a general rule and within reason, if you can’t name all of the ingredients in something you’re eating, it’s probably trying to murder you.
Sometimes dreams don’t mean anything. That dream about your tooth falling out wasn’t necessarily about your need for approval from your neglectful father. Maybe you just slept on your face funky. Keep moving.
The planet is not lucky to have you. You’re lucky to be on this planet. Act accordingly.
You don’t always have to have an answer. Sometimes it’s better if you don’t. Not everything needs your opinion. Remember, you have the right to remain silent. Similarly, think before speaking. Maybe hold that thought until you’re a little bit smarter.
Winning an argument doesn’t necessarily mean you’re right. It could mean you’re a better bully.
Time goes really, really fast. Really fast. A year ago I wrote a similar piece about birthdays. I can’t believe another year has passed. Logically, I know it has. Emotionally, it feels as though I was sitting in this very place, contemplating these very thoughts yesterday, not ~365 days ago. The similarity of these moments, punctuated on a string of time, is what reminds us that we’re mortal. It’s unpleasant, but what can you do? I won’t suggest you live every day as though it’s your last, but the thought should maybe occur to you at least once a week.
Comparison is the thief of joy. I didn’t coin this phrase. I just find it an apt one for life in a capitalistic society, where the profiteers bank on us feeling inadequate. Fuck that noise, as the youth say. Everyone, no matter how much stuff they have or how perfect they look, has a perceived inadequacy. It’s called being human. Focus on what you can do within the parameters of your own life. It’s the only one you get.
Everyone has a story. It’s easy to sweep people into boxes. It’s the shorthand of ignorance and naïvety. And it does a disservice to humanity. Remember that everyone has a story to tell. Empathy costs you nothing.
Love is an action. Sure, you can express your love through words or gifts, but when it comes down to it, the only way to know its veracity is to see it in action. Love is in a bouquet of roses, maybe. But it’s most definitely in that moment when they run out to the store at 1:00am to get Monistat 7 for you because you have a roaring yeast infection. Ahem. Hold on to the love doers.
If there is a god, s/he’s most assuredly not interested in making the world a better place. You know whose job that is? Yours. Mine. Let’s get on it.
Pay more attention to politics. Politicians are the people who can and will change your world, for better or worse. Not Miley Cyrus.
If someone doesn’t like animals, stay away from them. They have no soul.
Being old doesn’t make you wise. You can be old and still be stubborn and entitled and stupid, same as a cranky baby. Stay open to learning, no matter your age. And know you can be wrong despite being a wizened old owl.
(… so maybe we should be paying more attention to Miley Cyrus? Age is making me unsure of my certainty. This entire list is now being called into question.)
Finally, be decent. Maybe everything on this list can really be summed up by this last statement. Being decent is the bare minimum of human relations. It’s zero on the scale from demonic to angelic. Everyone can do it, unless you’re a psychopath. Then you really can’t feel empathy. That must suck, and I feel sorry for you.
So this is what I know, all the contents of my brain. I’m hoping I’ll know even more next year! What wisdom can you share?