36 years, 36 lessons.

photo-5 My birthday was yesterday.  I turned 36.  Despite the overwhelming love I received all day long in a variety of ways- at the core of me I felt a subtle sadness. It is not how I anticipated feeling at 36.  I have a sneaking suspicion it has something to do with the fact that I have cancer.  Here are my 36 life lessons:

  1. Usually you will find what you are looking for. If you are looking for a sliver of green, a sign of hope, you will find one. And if you are looking for a fight, you will find that too. If you are looking to see goodness in the world, you will notice the man holding the door, the woman that waves you ahead, the teenager that picks up your fallen keys. And if you are looking for darkness, you will find that too. Try to look for the light.
  2. Don’t be afraid to talk about poop. Generally people think it is funny, and your candor will allow others to be candid. Everybody poops.
  3. Go camping. Put up a tent, throw stones in a river, tell stories by a fire.
  4. When you are rejected, accept it. Tell people about it. Don’t hide it — don’t blame it on anything or anyone – including yourself. Just get up and move on.
  5. Sing. In the car. In the shower. In the kitchen. To yourself. To your kids. Singing and joy are woven together.
  6. Don’t use drugs or alcohol to fix anything.
  7. Don’t fight sadness. Embrace it. Let it wash over you and take you to where you need to be.
  8. Travel.
  9. Listen to yourself. This requires time for reflection. If you are a parent this requires scheduling time to reflect, which seems impossible. Do it anyway.
  10. Sleep. If you are a parent this requires you wait until your kids are old enough not to need you at various points in the night. We still aren’t there yet.
  11. Rock your babies. Hold them, sing to them, pace the floor with them.  We never let our boys cry it out. Our first slept all  night at 8 weeks. Andy (3.5) still doesn’t. I used to think we were failures for running to him every time he cried. Now that I have cancer, I don’t regret one cuddle, one rock, one extra story, or song. And I don’t regret the countless nights he has slept between us. Like last night. His hair smells so sweet, and he whispers that he loves me. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve lost my sanity and wanted to smash plates against the wall some nights trying to get him to sleep. But I know there will be a day when he doesn’t need us any more and I will wish he did. (I will get back to you on this life lesson if he is 9 and still in our bed).
  12. Don’t lie. It complicates things.
  13. Never forget to tell your husband/wife/partner why you love them. Don’t assume they know. This includes reminding them how attractive they are. If you don’t tell them, who will? Your voice is the one that matters.
  14. Go skinny-dipping at least once.
  15. Go sledding in trash bags sprayed with Pam at least once.
  16. Stay up all night at least once.
  17. All the nice things you think about people in your head—say them out loud. At the risk of being creepy. At the risk of being sappy. At the risk of being cliche’. At the risk of being hurt. Say them out loud. What good are they if you don’t?
  18. Listen to music. You will find that joy and pain are universal. Music reminds us- we are not alone.
  19. Try not to worry too much about money. And realize that if you can say: “try not to worry too much about money” you’ve always had enough not to worry. Be aware of that privilege.
  20. Look behind you. Who needs help? Who needs a hand? Who needs a smile?
  21. Do not judge those behind you. You do not know their story. You do not know what they were born into. People can only “pull themselves up by the bootstraps” if someone has taught them how to use those said bootstraps, and if someone hasn’t used the bootstraps to hurt them, tie them up, or hold them back. What are bootstraps anyway? Be useful– use your hands to pull them up.
  22. Recycle.
  23. Learn how to cook family recipes. There is something so healing in eating what your mom, and your mom’s mom made. There is ritual and tradition in food. We need all three to be healthy.
  24. Nourish your body. If you are healthy do everything in your power to stay healthy. Move your body in a way that makes you happy. Fill it with food that is actually food. But sometimes eat Cheetos.
  25. Nourish your relationships. Even when you don’t have your health, you will have your people. Call even when you don’t have time. Write even when you don’t have words. Have lunch when you should be cleaning your house. When you are falling, your people will catch you.
  26. Be a generous tipper.
  27. Look people in the eye and say “hello”.
  28. Meet your neighbors. Memorize their names. If they can’t rake their leaves – you rake their leaves.
  29. Be gentle with your kids. Remember that if you are yelling at them for yelling – then you are the one out of line. (Hard to actually remember when you are yelling.)
  30. Don’t forget how to swing, skip, blow bubbles, finger paint, build a fort, or make a play doh cookie. Do all of these things with your kids. Even when you should be doing laundry.
  31. But then sometimes you really need to do the laundry. Don’t feel guilty if you turn the TV on for them and tune them out. You are human. Wild Krats is very important programming. It is also okay if you watch a few episodes of Parenthood instead of doing the laundry.
  32. Be nice to teenagers. Trust me. They have plenty of people in their lives telling them all the reasons they are not good enough. Tell them how valuable they are. Tell them they are good enough.
  33. Don’t spend time looking in the mirror studying your flaws. Don’t buy too many miracle products that will undo these flaws. One day you might be bald from chemo, and you will redefine a bad hair day. You will realize that no one has stayed in your life because of your looks, they have stayed because of how you make them feel.
  34. Own your mistakes. Say sorry. Even if you are the boss. Say it publicly, “I’m sorry. That was my bad. Let’s figure out how to fix it.” Everyone will respect you for it. There is no expectation for perfection.
  35. Be vulnerable. Tell your story often and openly. It is scary. Do it anyway. Open yourself up knowing you might get hurt. If you get hurt, embrace the pain – let it wash over you. Then be done with it. When your branches are bare you will find truth and beauty.
  36. Believe in something bigger than yourself. If you haven’t found this power yet, stop looking. You don’t have to look. You don’t have to be in any certain building, or read any certain book. It is there in the absence of the search. In the space between everything else. In the pauses and the deep breaths. I know this without knowing it. I feel it.

11 thoughts on “36 years, 36 lessons.

  1. Hi, don’t know how I got here but i’m glad I did. I wish you many more years of happiness, will pray for your health, and happiness. Don’ t be sad your words tell the story of a wonderful human being. My mother passed from cancer, and although I had her for a short time I always thank God i was blessed with a wonderful mother as I can tell you are. Fight for your kids, keep smiling, stay strong. Much love and respect. God bless!


  2. I read a lot of stuff on the internet but I never comment, ‘at the risk of being creepy, sappy and cliche” In the interest of #17, I am replying!
    I am 36. I am a teacher. I am a mom. What I have read here has stopped me in my tracks. Thank you for forcing me to reflect -even just for a moment – on what is truly important and on how lucky I am to have all that I do in my life. (See?? creepy, sappy, cliche’)
    I can’t imagine what you are going through, but you are obviously handling it unbelievably well. I wish you strength and power in the rest of your battle and I look forward to reading #37 next year!


  3. Wow. That puts things into perspective. I needed this tonight. Thank you. So. Much. You are an amazing soul. The best to you and your family.


  4. I love that I stumbled upon this blog. You are beautifully honest about everything. Thanking you for writing 36 lessons. I needed to read this. I’m praying for you and wish you well on this current journey you are on. You are doing big things by just writing your thoughts. Love to you and your family from me and mine.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s