” ‘If only’ must be the two saddest words in the world.” Mercedes Lockey
When I hear people say ‘I have no regrets’, my first thought is “I’ll have what they’re having”. Living a life that gathers no regrets is something we all want, but as years, events, experiences pile up, it’s harder to to come by — at least with a straight face. The truth is, we each have our own vision of how we wanted our lives to be and how they actually unfolded. As years add up, so do regrets. Whether they are productive or unhealthy often is not the point. Yet, they still have a way of elbowing into your consciousness, invited or not. They become like an accusatory Jack-in the Box, gleefully popping up with a laundry list of things you did or didn’t do and once it starts, it’s hard to shut up.
One of the biggest regrets of life, I think is a sense of having gone on the trip, but missed the adventure. Gary Haugen
The complicated, worrisome year we’ve all lived through is cause enough for mental review. More than ever, we realized just how precious life is — and how short. The obvious fragility of life was a newsreel re-run over and over through months of a pandemic. I suspect many of us, seeing very real mortality all around us, were treated to inadvertent flashbacks of our lives, enabling regrets to saddle up for rando visits. I’m that kid who, instead of pressing ESC, say ‘hold my beer’ (as if I actually drank), and settle in for masochistic doomscrolling of all my failures.
Recently, I was treated to an insomniac night of life review on an endless loop. I saw a 19 year old girl supporting a husband through college instead of fighting for art school, obviously not the smartest decision I ever made on many levels. As years spin by, I saw relationships I should have run from with my hair on fire, or left long before their expiration date. I’m a slow learner. I was starkly reminded of how parents’ threats of distancing and disapproval shaped my life as well as any confidence or idea of myself long into adulthood. I saw all the chances I didn’t take, in living color. All the places I never saw, risks I never took and the chicken-little fear that controlled it all.
Living in regret will become your biggest regret. Bill Johnson
How many times in our lives has something happened to stop us in our tracks? How often does a sudden illness, death of someone we love or loss of a job or home, kneecap us at the most basic level? Those events often put the brakes on our ideas of what the future should be – or if it even can be. That’s where the comma comes in.
Events come along in everyone’s life, both good and bad, that feel monumental. We fall in love, get the perfect job, get married, lose loved ones, get promoted, get divorced, have kids, move to a new home, get fired… the list goes on and on. These occasions can seem like mistakes or miracles, but no matter how they are received, they make us pause and consider.
“Life is a series of commas, not periods.” Matthew McConaughey
Experiences are all personal. What feels huge to us, may be business as usual for someone else. What might drop us like a rock, can be just a blip in the life of another. Depending on the circumstance, the event can feel like an ending, a bleak finality or a turning point where we are forced to move in another direction. We are either stuck, feeling that things will forever exist in this new context or find challenge to look outward, hopefully to find a new meaning to the story. If I have a choice between period and comma, I choose a comma.
Life is about change. It’s fluid, unpredictable and sometimes, even batshit crazy. Like a basket of fruit, even the best of times can turn but, conversely, bad stuff will usually get better. Okay, it may not get better the way we chose when we put in our order. But, as I told my kids when they were little, if Santa doesn’t get you what was on your list, he probably knew of something even better. If you’ve lived through wish lists spawned by Sears Christmas Toy catalogs, you know exactly what I mean.
“There comes a time when you have to choose between turning the page — and closing the book” Josh Jameson
“Our true person is outside of time and space. I’m every age I’ve ever been and so are you.” Anne Lamott
If age is just a number, we should be able to pick one we like — and stick with it. I mean, in the techno age, why not a birthday lottery? Choose a scratch off number under 50 and hold on to it. Unfortunately, nothing is that easy. Eventually, though, your birthday barcode comes up on that big jumbo-tron called life, and bingo – the gig is up.
It’s then we enter that magic garden where we see the sagging jawline, thinning hairline, beginning of a wrinkle under one eye and your boobs are certainly not getting any perkier. We worry about stuff we never did or maybe never will. We have more time to think, which, depending on the day, can be a good or bad thing. When another birthday is about to be ticked off the calendar, there’s no telling where your mind can go. Here’s where mine rolls today, just thinking that:
Despite the many late life Pollyanna slogans about getting older, my best dreams and aspirations are behind me (face palm) except of course, for my posterior, which now gets a lot fewer rave reviews.
It’s now a whole lot harder to remember what I ate last night — as well as simple words that seem always stuck on the tip of my tongue.
I once thought my elders’ morbid musings about how many more months and years were behind than ahead were a yawn, until today, when it’s all too obvious now how damn fast days go by.
No matter how many mistakes I or my children made, they will always be the best things I’ve ever done and who I love most in this world. That is, except maybe for their own kidlets, who I’d slay every dragon for, even knowing I’ll only see their future from my rear view mirror.
“Regrets, I’ve had (more than) a few” sang Frank Sinatra but pity parties and rant breakdowns can lead to the best breakthroughs. Actually, they are the true blessings of living in a grateful present.
Life isn’t fair and no one promised it would be. Pain, uncertainty, grief — all part of the package. But, if you’re blessed with tribes of people who love you, you hit the life lottery.
Sometimes the universe answers what your soul needs, though it’s not always a fun ride. But hard times can open our eyes, and expand our hearts allowing a comfort zone rebuild to help us find true north — inside ourselves.
The only person I can change – is myself. Period. Like that old saw about leading a horse to water, we can’t change anyone’s beliefs, behavior or thoughts but, if we cherish the currency of the relationship, it’s a win-win for all.
It’s okay to voice your values even if you surprise yourself. In these crazy, critical and game-changing times, standing up and speaking out for your beliefs isn’t just okay — it’s necessary. Go for it.
Pandemics have a nasty habit of making us question things we take for granted. When life seems a whole lot more fragile, words become a lot more important. Don’t let the right ones get away.
Whether you’re speaker or listener, words matter. They can heal or hurt; inspire or humiliate, encourage, teach or comfort. They can be the tiebreaker in an argument; a deal breaker in a relationship. They can make someone feel important or diminished; deeply hurt or transformed with love. They can criticize, accuse, or malign. The can also soften a heart and change the trajectory of someone’s life. Words can change lives for worse or for better; or through their absence, leave a hole that is often never filled.
The give and take of words is all part of human speak. We ask work questions about marketing and quality control. We ask about freshness of the lettuce or what’s on sale that day. We ask our kids it they remembered to pack their homework and sneakers for gym as they run out the door. More often than not, we don’t give a whole lot of thought to the mundane exchanges we have every day. Yet, the power of our words is immeasurable.
You better know that in the end, it’s better to say too much
Than to never to say what you need to say again. John Mayer
There are people who never stop talking and who knows, I may be one of them. But, with all our talk, talk, talk, what is really said? We use hundreds of words every day – but how many cut to the chase of life? How many of us carve out that critical second to say the one thing that could transform a heart? In a world as uncertain, as volatile as we live today, we are all painfully aware of our human vulnerability. We are reminded each day, as we see numbers across the world tell the story of humans gone too suddenly, that life is not forever. Just as words we say in haste or anger form a destructive legacy that never be taken back, many that need to be said, that could change everything in someone’s world, are not. The time when they could be spoken is no longer and there is no better proof than the now 100,000 people who have gone forever. Words we wish to have said have disappeared into the ether.
There is no time to leave important words unsaid. Paulo Coelho
In my book, the most magic words in life are often the simplest, yet time slips by and what we meant to say disappears with it. Yet, words, those very words, can mean the world like:
Thank you. It always amazes me how little we acknowledge kindness and thoughtfulness. Sure we dole out automatic thank you’s like M&M’s, with no real thought. Now, I’m totally onboard with politeness, in any setting, but authentic, cognizant gratitude is the real deal. My mother always told me, if you don’t thank someone who sends you a gift, you don’t deserve it. Words on paper count, too. But as treasured as a call or thank-you note is, the heart behind the thank you makes all the difference. Don’t sell these words short. From a grocery checker to a child being thoughtful, these two little words say ‘I see you – and you matter.’
I’m sorry. Even if you did something you totally regret and would never do again, an ‘I’m sorry’ is the way to go. In fact, these two little words are some of the most important you can ever say. Apologizing never comes easy. In fact, when we are really pissed, (it happens) that ‘I’m sorry’ seems almost impossible. Said from the heart, though, it means we learned the hard way, that we realized we hurt someone and even if what we did won’t go down in history as Titanic sized, we are truly bummed it happened. Taking responsibility for our actions can go a long way to healing our relationships – and ourselves.
Forgive me. When we value a relationship, our greatest hope, when something goes wrong, is to repair it and restore it to its original condition. We should never take a person we cherish or their forgiveness for granted. Extending the proverbial olive branch with hope, not expectation, is a leap of faith. Acceptance is their gift to us, not an automatic expectation.
I love you. Don’t wait for the funeral or the door closing to tell people how you feel about them. Say it when it counts. Say it as often as it needs to be said or as often as you feel it. Say it before it’s too late. And people who grieve the 100,000 authentic, cherished people, claimed without warning by COVID-19, may always wonder, as I did when my own husband died suddenly, if “I love you” could have been said just one more time. No matter how many times “I love you” is said or even written, not one of us will ever say, “No more. I’m good thanks”.
Imagine those cheery little ID stickers with descriptors like “Glass Half-Full or Half-Empty Person” after our names. We’d be instantly busted as relentlessly cheerful or obsessively pessimistic. Awkward. Those who wander through life under a persistent gray cloud might be predisposed to resent endlessly cheery types. And the perennial blue-sky humans would really be unhappy if gloom ‘n doomers rained on their parade.
Me? I’m a happy/not-always-happy hybrid, and I suspect a lot of you can identify — depending on the day or period of life. Basically, I’m an optimist with varying shades of the ‘other shoe is gonna fall’ thrown in. (get it?)
“Problems cannot be solved at the same level of thinking at which they were created.” Einstein
Two people can see the same glass entirely differently. Though, given a choice, I’d choose half-full every time. Just because I hum Monte Python’s “Always look on the bright side of life”, doesn’t mean I have it nailed or that my glass is half-full of puppies and unicorns. Hey, I’m the girl, who came home, after an hour away, to find my husband dead, remember? That brand of lightening can really derail even the biggest optimist like a tsunami! But, whether you’re knee-capped by grief, have critical struggles with health or are broken, humbled or depressed by other stuff life throws at you, even a half empty glass can slowly be refilled.
Don’t feel like Pollyanna reincarnated? The reality is that pessimists stay stuck in the proverbial black cloud; optimists find the silver lining— eventually. Optimists are not always the happiest campers and pessimists aren’t consistently gloom and doom. On any given day, things can look positive or negative, good or bad. The best thing we can do is not to lounge around too long in the bottom of the glass. Continue reading “Refill, anyone?”→
From the time we emerge, wrinkled, red and screaming our heads off in the delivery room, we begin to grow. We bravely take first steps, say first words and train daily for life as a fully realized human. We get skinned knees, scrapes, spills and tears along the way to all the good stuff and then we realize – it might not be all good stuff.
Pinocchio got a crash course in what it means to be ‘real’ when he became a human boy. Suddenly, he had all the best and worst of being real. He also had to choose not to lie, not only to everyone else, but also to himself. We’re all a little like that wooden boy. As we grow, we learn to embrace true selves including all the splintered, broken pieces because it’s in those pieces we learn to be kind, genuinely, and sincerely kind. We learn to say what we mean and mean what we say, trying not to hurt others but empower them. We learn, we learn, we learn. . . if we’re lucky, if we’re aware, we become ‘real’.
Part of being real is being authentic, broken parts and all. It can be really tough to dive deep inside ourselves for our truest feelings but those are the only ones that count. We all get broken in different ways in this thing we call life and need to be mindful of what we experience to stay connected to ourselves. Maybe we could take a page from The Velveteen Rabbit’s playbook; as plush toys go, those guys were pretty evolved. “You become. It takes a long time.” the Skin Horse explained to the Velveteen Rabbit. Real “doesn’t happen often to people who break easily or have sharp edges or have to be carefully kept.” Continue reading “Velveteen Human”→
Born. Died. He was here – and then he wasn’t. For every name in the cemetery, what separates the dates of birth and death — is a dash, a line that connects all the living in between. A dash not only separates a whole bunch of years but also connects all we were meant to be. At least that’s what we hope for anyway.
A dash says ‘you were here’. You toddle around in diapers, go to school, run headlong into becoming an adult. And then what? Dates of graduation, wedding, children born are markers that all fall into the living. Jobs are listed on resumes, annotated with a succession of start and end dates. Even vacations are hyphenated periods of time we set aside to explore and relax.
How about marriage? The years spent with the person we marry carry their own dash. Sometimes they stretch far into the horizon; other times years can only be the length of an eyelash. However long or short, the dash attaches pieces of our all parts of our lives. Fortunately, even though my husband and I didn’t get much mileage out of the dash that strung our marriage years together, we had a small but pretty cool chunk of the ‘before’. Now the dash is in my court. And, at the moment, I can’t predict what it will say about me. Continue reading “Live the Dash”→
Your memoir – in six words. What a concept! When I read “Not Quite What I Was Planning” a few years ago, I thought it was genius. The clever little nuggets spilling from that book were profound, odd, funny and powerful. I knew that those who wrote them, both famous and not-so-famous, were really onto something. Just imagine, an entire life compressed in succinct 6-word verbiage. I began to think of everything in the smallest set of words possible. Waiting on the phone through 10 degrees of voicemail, or sitting in traffic, I thought of everything in 6 word increments.
Condensing words to a powerful, precious few is hardly new. Centuries ago, Confucius, said, “One joy dispels a hundred cares” and people through the ages recognized that verbosity isn’t a requisite for memorable statements. As a copywriter, I’m used to compacting messages. I can stuff ten pounds of thought into a clever five-pound bag and transform a stiff company mission statement into a sharp tagline. But reading this book gave the process a whole new meaning. While more than a few of the ingenious memoirs made me laugh out loud, I realized that they were also terrific creative self-analysis. Super cool. Continue reading “Beyond Words”→
“Sometimes,” said Pooh, “the smallest things take up the most space in your heart.”
Ah, the little things. The memories that are tucked up in your brain just waiting to sneak out at the smallest moments. People say the best thing about memories is making them; the next is remembering them. These days, it’s not always easy. In fact, sometimes even a little remembrance can knock the wind out of me. Memory lane might be the hardest road to travel, even when it’s only to the grocery store.
I may have forgotten to mention that I hate grocery shopping. But I have to eat so I ran to pick up a few things yesterday and as I was mindlessly sliding my credit card, a picture flashed in my mind. It was an image of my husband always whipping out his card before my hand even opened in my purse. I don’t know why – it all came out of the same account, but it was just a habit like so many others. Caught in that silly reverie, I almost missed the elderly man in front of me teasing his equally elderly wife, winking at me as he did, about her always needing ‘one more thing’ and keeping him waiting. As the two exchanged good-natured comments, I remembered joking with my husband that ‘one day we’ll be them’. them’.
I took this photo on the balcony of a cruise ship bound for Bermuda. That trip was not only our first cruise (courtesy of a travel writing gig) but the only time since our honeymoon we actually had an entire week away together. As I sat outside our room, in the wee hours of the morning, I remember feeling completely at peace, awash in the serenity that a magical sunrise over a eternal ocean can bring. It was a moment of bliss that would come back to my mind many times after my world was split in half less than two years later.
I’ve never asked ‘why me’ about anything. Maybe I believe in karma, the capriciousness of the universe or just, hey, that who am I in this galaxy’s scheme of things? With all the horrendous things that happen every day in this world, how could I possibly think I was singled out for anything? Like it or not, stuff happens in this life without our permission.
When I was 26, my younger brother died suddenly of leukemia. He was 3 weeks shy of 20 years old and even his doctors were shocked. His death brought an unexpected tsunami of pain and disbelief that rocked my and my siblings world. It nearly destroyed my parents. Continue reading “It is . . . what it is.”→