People say that age brings wisdom. My mom does, and I’m pretty sure it’s a thing. I know Maya Angelou said, ‘When you know better, you do better.’ She’s kind of like the word of god in my head. Maya Angelou is my Morgan Freeman, so I listen closely.
Yesterday I strode into forty, and I think I’m beginning to understand what Maya meant, and to see it in my own life from time to time.
I don’t know if I always do better. What can I say? Progress is full of switchbacks.
But on one front I am undeniably improving: I know myself—better than ever.
I am a Highly Sensitive Person. (Surprise, surprise!)
I used to wish that I wasn’t this way, and that people wouldn’t be so scared of me. Folks tend to be wary of my ability to go deep right off the cuff; of my claiming the right to cry as much as I do; of my bottomless pit of passionate reactions.
But now I understand their fear; we are often intimidated by the superpowers of others. I, for one, am terrified of the unflappable. Of course there may even be a touch of envy in there too.
The flipside to this superpower is that I will drive some people bat-shit crazy. It’s cool; I’m used to it. Newsflash to anyone who has not figured this out yet: Not everyone will like you. In fact, some people will actively dislike you. And it’s okay. It’s really okay. You will survive. In fact, it can give you a lot of clarity and save you a lot of time. So just roll with it.
Also, I know that I take things personally. I always have, and I always will.
I’ll never forget the first time I heard Meg Ryan’s response to Tom Hanks’ ‘It wasn’t personal’ in You’ve Got Mail (one of the best movies of all time and I will cancel anyone who contests it).
‘What? What is that supposed to mean? I’m so sick of that.
All that means is that it wasn’t personal to you. But it was personal to me. It’s personal to a lot of people.
And what is so wrong with being personal anyway? Whatever else anything is, it oughta begin by being personal.’
If nothing else, things are personal with me. Those that I know—and love—I know personally, and that’s why I love them. Also, I want to be known.
So if you’d prefer to keep it on the surface, you just go ahead and keep walkin’.
Let’s see, what else.
I know that I am great at gratitude and really not great at maintaining calm in a crisis. Those with high-intensity emotions will feel me on this one.
I know that I am a really wonderful parent in the morning and a stern caregiver in the evening. I am still learning to pace myself.
I know that I will never have long hair again. I blow-dry for four minutes and that wasted time annoys me every day. I could have been writing!
I know that some things—gardening, surfing, and anything over an hour-and-a-half ski-touring climb—are for other people to enjoy.
I know that I can make a quick decision. It may not always be the best one, but if there’s one that needs making, I’m your girl.
I know that I’m funny. The kind of funny that is goofy and pun-y and also smart and witty. And I know now that I don’t have to make others laugh as long as I’m entertaining myself—and Danny and my mom—which I do, daily.
I know that I’ll take abs over boobs any day, ‘cause that’s all I got and I’ve been making it work—more or less—since ‘96.
I know that I’m a good loser, and that not many people can say that. I don’t mind losing; I’m not competitive in that way. I think losing teaches humility, and that nothing bad ever came from a good dose of humility.
I know I’m just just never going to really be on time. And that’s disappointing, to the people in my life no more so than to me. But in the great grand scheme of life, I’m going to accept that (while trying to improve). Maybe I’ll always require a 15-minute grace period, like a doctor’s office.
I know that I cry easily, and often. Sometimes a few times a day.
I cry when I see older people bringing their garbage cans back in from the curb. I cry when I see a mother comfort a forlorn child—a small face tucked under a neck. I cry at the news. I cry when I hear poetry read aloud. I cry, really, whenever I recognize truth.
I know that I get lonely. Or…wait. I used to.
I spent about 38.75 years of my life feeling lonely. And then I had some months in the dark night of the soul, so full of disappointment and loss I thought I’d break. And then I recovered. I don’t get so lonely now.
As a friend said to me lately, and it struck me like a bolt of lightning: I have found success at solitude.
The best gifts in the world are the ones you give yourself.
So in the 40th year of myself, I will tell you what I know for sure, above all else. I know that the more I know myself—the more I accept myself, really—the more change I can weather.
I spent a good long time hoping that I could adapt and adjust to make the world easier for me to handle, and myself easier for others to handle. But at somewhere between one-half and one-third through my life, Imma let that shit go. I am who I am. As soon as I wander too far from myself, I get lost. I’ve spent enough time being lost.
So in a weird way, I feel a bit born again (never in the religious sense, good GOD).
I know I will still have my freak-outs, surely, in this quarantine, this Life in the Time of Coronavirus. I already have. I am whelmed (sometimes over) by my inability to help, and devastated by the widespread suffering, particularly by those who have never had a chance to get ahead—of anything, ever. I pray for them, in my own way, every day.
I know that as humanity confronts this common adversary, I’ve never felt so okay being not really that okay. I know that we don’t know what’s going to happen and that we’re all experiencing all the feels that come with unpredictability.
Yet in the midst of all of this change—and the fear, uncertainty, and vulnerability that it brings—I know that I feel steady. After all, these feelings are my home, and it’s a great time to stay home.
But for how long? That’s the million dollar question. And also, how do we cope?
I don’t know about you, but Danny and I have built a bubble around our family. We have been eating together and cleaning together and playing together and learning together. It’s been really weird at first, and then not as weird. All of this togetherness is what people used to do, you know, before everything got so connected and at the same time so distant.
We have been largely within our four walls, and in our neighborhood, cobbling together a new dynamic that somehow everyone can live with—that we must live with, together.
Sometimes I think that the Grand Dame of the universe is looking down at the sickness and suffering and, while she mourns, thinks, ‘But look, they have slowed down enough to remember what matters.’
I know we will get through this. I know that everyone is taking a closer look at who they are when the shit hits the fan. I know that we acknowledge the angels among us—healthcare workers, scientists, researchers, teachers, service workers and caregivers—anew.
I know that we are more thankful than ever for what health we have. I know that the small things mean more to us again. I know we can’t control the big things. But the small things are poised to delight, if we let them. I know we can.
The Beth List – What’s Not Wrong*
*an amazing trick I learned from a dear friend to quell anxiety or keep sadness at bay
- The smell of bleach
- Strangers waving
- Harry Potter and the…
Tell me what’s not wrong in your world. Peace and love.