WIth all the attention last week on the anniversary of the assassination of JFK, it got me thinking about how quickly fifty years can pass. I have a hard time believing – but then again, I suppose I shouldn’t – that I can still remember that day with such intricate details, down to what I was wearing and the way the classroom smelled. Fifty years later, the world is still healing from the event that altered our lives.
Twenty-five years later, I’m still healing from my own.
It’s near: the 25th anniversary of the day my music stopped, the day the cloud cover became impenetrable, the day a guaranteed tomorrow was unfathomable. It is said that with age comes wisdom; but for me the wisdom came first. Because at 34, you’re usually not granted the wisdom of an older person – but then it comes at you fast and furious when you’re diagnosed with cancer.
Weighty events have a sneaky way of embedding themselves so deeply into our psyches that they become a huge part of our lives… sometimes the defining theme of our lives. We teeter between who we were before and who we become after. I’ve learned a lot since that day, 25 years ago, the day that altered me not only physically but also emotionally.
1. Life is not fair. If it were, I wouldn’t have gotten breast cancer. My two best friends, and countless other women I knew, would not have died of it at such young ages.
2. No one is immune. We all have our “stuff” to bear. Eventually everyone gets their turn, some worse than others.
3. Not one day goes by without me reminding myself I’m grateful for being here. And if it does, I kick myself and tell myself I won’t forget again. 4. There’s nothing wrong with perseverance and trying to change things if you’re not happy with the way they are. Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn’t. But at least you tried.
5. It’s also wise to surrender and to come to the realization when/if things cannot be changed.
6. Take a breath and slow down. Rushing is rarely worthwhile and will only make things take more time in the long run. Always remember what matters to you most – and make time for it/them.
7. Be here now. It’s the only “real” time there is. All that “stuff” running through our heads – worries about the future and regrets about the past – just takes up valuable space. And it keeps us from being where we actually are.
8. Don’t let little things go unnoticed. Take the time to examine the shape of the petals on a flower, the angle of the sun, the way the wind feels on your skin. They’re all miraculous if you think about it.
9. If you admire someone, tell them. Receiving a compliment not only makes the other person feel good; giving one also makes you feel real and genuine and strangely satisfied.
10. Learn to let the little things go. After my diagnosis, I was fond of saying, “If it’s not fatal, don’t worry about it.” That may be a bit extreme – I realize there are other things that legitimately matter – but not things like a dent in your car, getting stuck in traffic or a broken nail before a big event.
11. It’s not all about you. If you think someone else is focusing on your broken nail/wrinkles/frizzy hair/spot on your shirt, chances are they are more concerned with who is focusing on THEIR broken nail/wrinkles…you get my drift. Most people are too concerned about themselves to focus on you, so don’t worry.
12. Exercise is a cure for lots of life’s problems. So is a good, long walk, sitting and doing absolutely nothing or getting lost in a great book. Oh, and a long soak in a bath, preferably filled with lavender-scented bubbles.
13. Don’t be afraid to go against conventional wisdom. Sometimes you just have to trust your gut. And sometimes you’re right.
14. If someone snubs you or is nasty, most of the time it’s more about them than about you.
15. Learn to manage and examine your expectations and assumptions. Just because you think or hope for something doesn’t make it true.
16. Smile at someone who looks really grumpy or unapproachable. They may look intimidating, but maybe they’re just preoccupied or frightened or awkward around other people. While it might not always work, usually it does.
18. Worrying is futile. Most of the time the things we worry about never end up happening anyway. One of my most favorite quotes (one that resonates strongly with me, the original worrier) is from an influential writer of the French renaissance, Michel Montaigne: “There were many terrible things in my life and most of them never happened.”
19. Always be curious. Things – and people – are not always what they seem, and there are so many hidden nuggets of knowledge in just about everything and everyone if you look hard enough.
20. If you try to control everything, you’ll drive yourself mad. Everything is not under our control, plain and simple. Here’s another favorite quote of mine from Montaigne: “Not being able to govern events, I govern myself.”
21. Try hard to work through fear and doubt. They have a way of overpowering you and stopping you from pursuing what you really want. Push yourself through them if you can, and you’ll find the most amazing things can happen. At the very least, you’ll feel wonderfully empowered.
22. Be open to other opinions. I don’t know everything; and I don’t know what I don’t know. So, there’s a lot to be learned. Always.
23. Also be open to other people’s quirks and differences. That’s what makes them unique. And usually fun and more interesting, too.
24. The art of empathy is underestimated. Trying to understand why a person is the way they are and what makes them do the things they do can enrich you with learning and acceptance.
25. Make your life matter. It’s too short. It’s too precious. We don’t all get to pay the rent indefinitely. Some of us get evicted way too soon. Remember to be silly…laugh…and have fun!