What I Learned in My First 50 Years

This week, I celebrate my 50th birthday. “Big birthdays” tend to make me introspective—so I’ve been ruminating on the lessons I’ve learned to date. With the exception of the first and last, these aren’t in any particular order. Some have the feel of deep truth to me. Some are a bit more…prosaic. Some I learned the hard way—others I learned from watching people around me make mistakes or good choices:
  1. In the end, love is really the ONLY thing that matters.
  2. Going to sleep in the arms of the person you love is the most sublime pleasure you can have this side of the Eschaton.
  3. Murphy really was an optimist—but allowing your life to be ruled by fear is a piss-poor way to spend your very limited time on this earth.
  4. Mean/selfish/greedy people suck. They also seem to rule the world—or support those who do. :-(
  5. Dogs are better than people about 99% of the time.
  6. Kindness is the best religion. It can also be the hardest one to practice.
  7. Anything worth doing is worth doing right the first time.
  8. Group projects make the devil laugh.
  9. Music is, and will always be, one of the best ways to experience the Divine.
  10. Your girlfriends will get you through the rough spots. Value them accordingly.
  11. Poetry ranks right up there with girlfriends and dogs in terms of getting you through the crappy parts of your life.
  12. Life is too short to drink cheap wine.
  13. It is better to regret what you did than what you didn’t do.
  14. Ecological impact aside, minivans rock. Especially when you have a child who plays the tuba and the sousaphone.
  15. Grammar is a tool to be used—not a weapon to be wielded. And anyone who corrects other people’s grammar, spelling, and punctuation on social media has WAY too much time on hir hands.
  16. It makes sense to eat well and exercise—but you aren’t going to live forever no matter what you do. Therefore, on occasion, Diet Coke and hot dogs are perfectly acceptable breakfast foods—and ice cream makes a delightful dinner.
  17. You only have to floss the teeth you want to keep.
  18. Grief is not linear. And the best gift you can give a grieving person may be to sit silently with them in their sorrow—and to speak the name of their loved ones.
  19. You should be as honest as you know how to be (in an age-appropriate way) with your children. Especially about sex and relationships. And money. And if you are honest about those things, they will not hold it against you, or be scarred for life, if you give them the joys of Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny for a few years.
  20. Tilting at windmills is a hard and thankless job—but someone has to do it. Might as well be you.
  21. If you dare to care about other people more than you care about money or power, a lot of people will call you a fool. And then you will know whom to avoid.
  22. Speak truth to power. It may cost you—but being silent will cost you more.
  23. Emily Dickinson was right. There is no frigate like a book.
  24. Jack Gilbert was also right. “We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure, but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless furnace of this world. To make injustice the only measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.”—From A Brief for the Defense
  25. Deeply spiritual people seem to laugh a lot (e.g., Sylvia Boorstein, Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama). There is probably a lesson there….
  26. Focusing on your looks or your weight or your bank account balance is a big waste of time and energy. (But—true fact—it is easier to change husbands or therapists than it is to change hair stylists.)
  27. Flowers are a wonderful gift, because their very impermanence makes them precious.
  28. Good-smelling men and laughing babies can make you glad to be alive.
  29. There really WAS a use for all that math you thought was a waste of time.
  30. We are what we do. For the most part, this is not a happy realization—but it is always a spur to do better.
  31. People who say “Please,” “Thank you,” and who tip well are people you want in your life. The converse is also true.
  32. Faith may oblige you to forgive, but it does NOT oblige you to allow people to remain in your life when they’ve bitten you more than once.
  33. Honest apologies do not contain the words “but” or “if you were offended.” And if you can’t offer an honest apology, it is better just to keep your mouth shut.
  34. People live up to, or down to, what you expect of them. This includes politicians.
  35. The first rule of parenting is “Never make a threat unless you are prepared to follow through on it.”
  36. Anytime you say “I will NEVER….,” the Universe and the Karma Fairy will unite to smack you down. Hard.
  37. If you have a vagina, men and children will inevitably assume that you possess magical abilities to keep things clean, do laundry, and find missing items.
  38. If you don’t value yourself enough to take care of your physical, spiritual, and emotional health, no one else will do it for you.
  39. It is okay to ask for help. Really.
  40. Life is too short to hate what you do.
  41. What other people think of you really isn’t any of your business—unless they are family, close friends, or your boss. Then you should probably consider taking their opinions under advisement.
  42. Being angry is exhausting.
  43. Reality does have a liberal bias.
  44. Smart people are sexy. Smart people who are kind are irresistibly sexy.
  45. You are never too old to crank up the stereo and hit the gas.
  46. Outside of the bedroom, comfortable shoes are infinitely better than sexy ones.
  47. You should start saving for retirement the day you start working. (Learned that one MUCH too late….)
  48. Some relationships are simply too much work. It’s okay to recognize this and end them.
  49. You don’t have any obligation to argue with random strangers on the Internet.
  50. Every birthday spent above ground is a good one.

Doxy’s Note: Despite my use of the collective “you,” it should be obvious that these are the lessons I’VE learned. If they don’t resonate with you, see #49.