A COVID Birthday
“…and I realize that living well is an art which can be developed. Of course, you will need the basic talents to build upon: They are a love of life and ability to take great pleasure from small offerings, an assurance that the world owes you nothing and that every gift is exactly that, a gift. That people who may differ from you in political stance, sexual persuasion, and racial inheritance can be founts of fun, and if you are lucky, they can become even convivial comrades. Living life as art requires a readiness to forgive. Because of the routines we follow, we often forget that life is an ongoing adventure.” Dr. Maya Angelou
I dragged my copy of "Wouldn't Take Nothing For My Journey Now" around for more that 20 years before finally gifting it to a special mentee many Christmases ago. I've always loved making gifts of worn, over-read and bedraggled copies of my favorite tomes, imagining these treasured friends somehow gained something in their time with me, too, through some mystical energy transference which allowed me to imprint a bit of myself onto the pages. Claptrap, I’m sure, but I like the imagery nonetheless…
The losses this year have been incalculable. And what I'm remembering today is that to be human is to be woundable - to be WOUNDED, in fact - and that I have finally reached that enviable point in life where I wouldn't trade my pain, my wounds (not even the self-inflicted ones) for anything.
Leonard Cohen sang, "ring the bells that still can ring, forget your perfect offering. There's a crack in everything - that is how the light gets in..."
I would add this: The cracks are also how our light gets out…
Today is my birthday, and if I were to offer up one thing this year taught me (and yes, for the record, “2020” is officially a cussword. I've even adjectivized it should anyone want to get creative. Furthermore, I’ve observed that adding a nasty, progressive disease as a modifier gives a little panache. But I digress...) IF I were to offer up one thing this year taught me above all else it is this: I am ever, EVER so grateful for my wounded places.
I’m grateful for my wounds. And somewhere along the line, I stopped fearing the hurt that accompanies being wounded.
It isn't that I stopped *feeling* the pain, but somehow, somewhere, I stopped fearing it. I have finally learned some critical lessons: Safety is illusory. Fear is a thief. And those wounded places each of us carry are not battle scars to be displayed with pride nor ugly damage to be field-dressed and hidden from view. Our wounds - when recognized and tended and honored - can be transformed into sacred wisdom, useful to us and useful to others.
I swear. A lot. Unapologetically and quite creatively, if I do say so. I have a group of friends who regularly give odds on how long it will take me to drop both the pretense of civility and the F-bomb in important meetings (the over/under has gotten increasingly narrow over the years). I tell you this because what I've written so far sounds like a whole lotta kumbaya peacenik drumbeat, and I would hate to leave any kind of impression that I'm ENLIGHTENED or something. I'm not. I'm just lucky to have lived long enough to have learned a lot of lessons the hard way.
(Most I learned by doing twice...)
A little more than a year ago I started hauling around what is now an extremely beat-up notebook in which I jotted all the thinky thoughts that occurred to me and seemed, at the time, to be of some import. Generally my thoughts are of the variety that make Jesus want to drink gin straight from the cat dish, but this morning I’m feeling reflective as one is wont to do when approaching middle age, and I pulled it out in search of wit or wisdom.
So, for whatever it may be worth on this most weird, celebrating from a distance 2020stylish birthday, here's a roundup of my top however-many-I-come-up-with-before-the-kids-interrupt (again) accumulated bits of wisdom for this particular, peculiar year:
1) Most people really are doing the best they can.
2) Even if they aren’t, I am a better person - closer to who I genuinely want to be and how I genuinely want to move through this world - when I remember and believe #1.
3) I am not responsible for other people's outcomes. I can hold space, listen with my whole soul, and offer the truth as I know and have experienced it - but the heavy lift of building the life they want belongs to them.
4) Joy is infectious. It has an R0 of 100 (and thanks to 2020, everyone now knows exactly what that means, much to the delight of my nerdy self). Joy is different from happiness. JOY *lives in us* on a cellular level; my happiness over the approximate eleventy-hundred coffee-and-swearing gifts and texts I've received is transient, but the JOY that fills my marrow in knowing that so many people *know-and-love-me-anyway* me is transcendent.
5) It is ok to sit in the discomfort of being misunderstood. Being misunderstood isn't pleasant, but it also isn't a death-sentence.
6) There are stupid fights and there are important fights: Learn the difference.
7) Life will occasionally change trajectory so damn fast it’ll take your breath away. Hold on – there’s still enough oxygen on the planet. It may just take a moment to remember how to breathe.
8 ) At some point, a phone call will change everything you thought you knew. It will drive you to your knees then put you on your face and leave you there, confounded by your unpreparedness. There’s no bracing against this if you want to love anyone wholly, ever. All you can do is leave your heart wide, wide open for the pain and go rocky mountain climbin’ every chance you get.
9) Individualism is a death-cult. Fight me.
10) Do the thing that makes you most afraid. Then do it again and again until you realize it was a paper dragon all along.
11) Never hesitate to fling yourself between another human and danger. Stand close enough to get hit by the rocks. Fight the fights that need fighting, even when the deck is stacked and especially when lives are on the line. Stand in the line of fire. We’d all be better and safer if our protective instincts would override our self-preservation a bit more often.
11.1) Love doesn’t always win, but if we get in the arena a little more often - even if we end up getting our asses kicked - on its behalf, we might just tip the scales...
12) Truth matters. Transparency matters. They are, in fact, radical acts of kindness.
12.1) Truth has a different timbre – learn to listen for and recognize the difference.
13) Conflict is good when it *also* invites curiosity and communication. It brings friends closer, can actually heal rifts and help us gain appreciation and insight into how other people make sense of the world. The key here is curiosity.
14) Healing happens in liminal space, and learning to hold liminal space for another person is a deeply spiritual practice. Don’t toss it around and bypass the work.
15) All emotions from children are “Approach” emotions. It took me a lot of years to get that sorted, but it has finally settled into my bones as fundamental truth.
16) Resilience isn’t a gift of our genetics. True resilience requires ongoing, deliberative, mindful cultivation. If you have good resiliency practices, please model them often for others. There’s benefit in seeing “The Strong Ones” actively practice the things that keep them vertical.
17) Resilience has a dark side. So does Empathy. Learn to recognize it. More on this later…
18) The job is *not* to protect one another from pain. The job is to connect, to bear witness, and to walk through the fire, hand in hand, until we finally, finally understand that “together we are fireproof.” (G. Doyle)
19) Love is Holy. So is Grief.
Those of you with certain personality profiles are going to go crazy that I’m leaving it at 19. I am happy to gift you with my latest creative swears if you need them.
Ok. Here’s 20: Seek Awe, every chance you get. The universe is brimming with things that can – and should – stop us in our tracks. Don’t let pain and fear close the entry points for Awe.
My Birthday Wish? That we all stay Brave, Curious and Connected.
And hydrated. Don’t forget to hydrate.