There are an endless numbers of articles and videos out there with titles like “The Best Advice We’d Give Our Younger Selves”, or “Advice from Old People”, all of which, undoubtedly, offer some truly sage advice from folks who have “done the time” and want to save us some suffering as we travel the road to old age. But, here’s the thing. While we may desire shortcuts, there are none. There are no shortcuts. It may be a cliché, but life is about the journey, not the destination. The highs and lows, the successes and failures, the mistakes, the struggles…these are all completely necessary. These are the foundational blocks that build our character. These are how we grow and learn about both our selves and our world. And unfortunately, we can’t learn the important life lessons from a textbook, or as it may be, the people who have gone before us. Don’t get me wrong, everyone needs support, encouragement and perspective. Everyone can benefit from another person’s experiences, but there is no substitute for putting in the hard work and slogging the miles yourself.
A Risky Ride
The shortest distance between two points is a straight line This is true But, this is not how the organism works Lives are not linear, but circuitous, meandering, haphazard and gloriously indirect Truth lies on exposed mountain tops In the murky depths of caves and pitch black oceans Not on open highways where we shift into autopilot and coast Potholes, boulders and grandiose vistas Untrodden trails, back alleys and narrow canyons These grow the spirit Sweat, tears, laughter and heartache These build the foundation of our astral ascent The work of living is a labor of love Born of it Given to it When we surrender to the sacred geometry of our humanity The path always leads hOM
I got to thinking about this for a couple of reasons. The first came while parenting my middle schooler. My 13-year old son and I were having a heart-to-heart about friend issues he was having at school. For those who don’t remember middle school, your peers are your whole world and any drama that involves them, no what how big or small, seems like the end of the world. I could hear the angst in my son’s voice as he swore his social life was over, and no matter how much I preached, telling him that in 20 years none of this will matter and seem utterly ridiculous in retrospect, I knew it was going in one ear and out the other. He could hear me, but he couldn’t really hear me. This is because he is in early adolescence, one of the distinct developmental stages (from infancy to old age) through which all humans must pass. Now, we are all individuals and will navigate these stages on our own timeline, in our own way, based on our unique personalities and life experiences. But, we WILL hit them, and telling a teenager how to avoid the pitfalls of peer relationships is essentially futile. As hard as it is to watch as a parent, he will get his heart broken and/or break heart(s). He will make dumb choices that result in consequences. He will fail and fail again until he succeeds. Most importantly, he will figure it out on his own with me and his dad there as constant voices of love and support.
Secondly, regarding the opposite end of the developmental spectrum, I have recently started volunteering with our local Community Action Program as a driver for adults, mostly elderly, who have no other means to get to appointments, grocery shopping, etc. This has been an amazing experience! Spending time with adults who are in the last decade or so of their lives has been truly enlightening. They have so much to say, so many memories, and often, so many regrets. George wishes he had never retired, because he became sedentary and grew old quickly. Pauline rues her loss of independence since giving up her car and wishes she could see her husband (who is in a nursing home) more. I’ve learned about how simple life used to be, about how demoralizing it must be to become dependent on others for your daily needs, and about how you never lose your capacity for love and awe. In having talked at length with these octogenarians, I can understand the desire to pass on all that you’ve learned, to save the next generation from making the same mistakes you did, to save them from similar regrets. However, no matter how much we listen, bumps in the road are inevitable. Regrets are inevitable.
While my experiences with both the young and the old has informed and influenced my perspective on life, how I will use them is yet to be seen. It’s all part of the journey. I was born and someday I will die with a whole lot of living in between. There are no shortcuts.