By Sandy Wright
A young friend of mine had a devastating and sudden death in her family this week, her father. On top of the staggering grief, she also mourns that he left her before they could say everything that needed to be said between them. She has so many unanswered questions, so many hurts unhealed. There just wasn’t time.
It’s a common lament. My own parents have been gone for years, yet I still think of things we didn’t discuss. Why she stayed with my father while his eye wandered to cowgirls, and how she finally regained his attention. How proud she would be of her grandson. As for Dad, I’d like to ask him how he trained all of his dogs to freeze in place with one short command, when I can’t stop my Australian Sheppard from running across the street to jump on the neighbor.
It’s too late for me to ask my parents those questions. Unfortunately, it’s too late for this young woman to finish the dialogue so recently begun with her father. But it’s not too late to share with my son.
I’ll have to approach him gingerly, testing the waters with the barest hint of motherly guidance. He is, after all, a young twenty-something, still in the early stages of pushing away, separating and individuating, casting off motherly advice with an irritated exhale and a monosyllabic reply. That’s okay. At some point in his life, maybe when he has his own children, he will have questions for my husband and me. When he asks, I will give him my journals, which I started when he was in high school, and have added to each Mother’s Day since.
Here are the things I’d like to tell him this year, as he approaches college graduation:
- Don’t worry. It’s a waste of energy, time and emotion. It will tie you up in knots so you can’t sleep. Make you cranky with the people you care about. Worry is fear about the future, but it does nothing to actually change it. Instead of worrying, make the best decisions you can right now. Then let the Universe plot your best course.
- Examine your foundation carefully. Look deeply at your worldview, what you value, your personal compass. Then live by it. It will affect every decision you make. Life has a way of uprooting you and tossing you around. Be sure you nail the landing.
- Choose your friends, don’t just fall in with them. Your friends will give shape to your life. They will either stunt your growth or urge you on. When you find good friends, treasure them and invest time and effort into keeping them. Be the kind of friend you want to have.
- Remain a Student. Look, listen, read, learn. Never stop. Be enthusiastic and curious about a wide range of topics. Find a mentor, a teacher, a spiritual guide. Be open to new ideas and viewpoints for all of your years. Never stagnate.
- Develop good habits. In her book, The Writing Life, author Annie Dillard said, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” Don’t wait until tomorrow to exercise, eat healthy, get up on time. And don’t wait until it’s more convenient to fall in love, save money, or take the time to really listen.
- Heal your wounds. And don’t fool yourself into thinking the trauma of your childhood has been left in e past. Those shadows grow under the surface, then, from a random trigger incident, roil up suddenly to engulf you. If you need help with healing, don’t be afraid or ashamed to ask for help, including profession counseling. Every painful trial is like an oyster, and there is a precious pearl—a personal benefit—in every one; every single one. Repeat that thought like a mantra. No one wants to experience pain, but it’s gonna happen. Acknowledge. Heal.
- Realize that not everything is about you. So much of our disappointment and frustration with people, jobs–basically with life in general—occurs because we presume that life should go our way. Often, the way people treat you is about them, not you.
- Be patient. Our society is programmed to get things instantly and on demand. But life doesn’t always work that way. Push gently on a lot of doors, and believe that the Universe has a plan for you. You can’t know what you’re good at or what you most enjoy without sampling a large number of situations. Learn what you want first, then patiently and methodically work at clearing the road blocks in your path.
- Be excited for other people’s success. Remember it’s not all about you, right? Sincere support of others will get you ahead faster than stepping on everyone else’s fingers to climb the success ladder. Take time to hear what people really want, what they really think. You will never be called a jerk for listening too much.
- Don’t be afraid to follow your instincts. If you think she may not be the right girl, she probably isn’t. Same goes for the right job, the right moral decision. Of all the voices you hear, your own may be the wisest, but hardest to listen to. Pay attention to that knot in your gut when something is a bit off, and also to the pure joy when it’s just right.
- Take risks. Go boldly into the unknown if that’s where your instincts and a bit of reason send you. It may be out of your comfort zone. So what? As a wise friend once said, “Do what you won’t regret. It’s more satisfying than regretting what you didn’t do.”
- Take Karma seriously. I am a firm believer in Karma. Every act has a reaction. There is no such thing as “getting away with it.” Even if you don’t get caught. Though forgiveness is divine, sin leaves a stain. And that spot is permanent, even if you ignore it and fake like it isn’t there. Karma, child, is the ultimate bitch slap.
- Make time to rest and recharge. When you are young, you think you can abuse yourself continually and still recover. So you fill your days and nights to overflowing. But what you do now will eventually take its toll on you physically and mentally. Develop good sleep habits now. Learn to say “no” when you’re over-extended. Learn to meditate. Get your nose out of your laptop and your iphone and walk in nature. To learn pure joy, take a dog with you.
- Keep your tribe intact. I am constantly dismayed by people who tell me they’ve drifted away from their children, or their parents. Do your best to preserve your familial ties. Treat your parents as tribal elders. Ask them questions: What do they regret not asking their parents? Is there anything that they wish was different between you—or that they would still like to change? How do they want to approach older age, and eventually death, and is there anything you can do to help them? What music do they want played at their funeral? Do they want a “green” burial?
- Honor those you love. As you get older, get a full-time job, get married, have children, it becomes harder to make time for anything outside of your personal bubble. Family truly is your foundation, and that foundation includes those who came before, as well as those who will follow you. Cherish your own babies, and the babies of those you love. Honor goes hand in glove with love, a verb whose very definition is doing worthwhile things for someone who is valuable to us.