Three Years, Thirty: A Reflection
It comes to mind today that not only am I headed into my thirtieth year, this year, but also that I am celebrating my third year as Roof Beam Reader. It is true that I have been blogging much longer than that – ten or more years, in fact; still, there is a certain special something to celebrate about having spent more than three years working on one specific project. That I am also twenty-nine, going on thirty, is a fact not lost on me – quite the opposite, really. I realize that, having lived for nearly three decades, now, I must have learned something or another. And in three years as a self-identified book blogger, I know for certain that this is true. It’s funny how these simple things – hobbies and distractions – can come to mean so much more.
So, what have I learned these last thirty years? I think the most important lesson has been that attitude holds more sway over us, sometimes, than circumstances do. I don’t come from much – not a wealthy or privileged family. There has always been plenty to complain about, plenty of people to be envious of, plenty of things to wish longingly for with no real hope of ever having. But, though I often couldn’t or wouldn’t see it, I come from love. My family is a small and humble one, but it is powerful in its unity and unmatched in its commitment. We care for each other fiercely and would do for any of us more than humanly possible (this has sometimes been proven).
I never thought I could go to college – but I did. I never dreamed of being able to move out-of-state for graduate school – but it happened. Never in my younger years would I have imagined that I’d be accepted into a Ph.D. program; still, somehow, I begin my doctoral studies this fall. These things were for the fancy kids whose parents had nice cars, two-story houses and summer homes in Florida. These things were not for me. But a positive attitude – believing that I can do what I set my mind to, and having a family who believed in me as much, if not more so at times, than I believed in myself – that did more for me than mountains of money ever could.
I have learned, too, that life is hardly in our control. It’s best to face it with a sense of humor and a sense of abandonment. I have books to write which continue to remain unwritten. To do lists piling up with things undone – skydiving, traveling the world, learning to play an instrument. It is easy, sometimes, to let the things still unachieved overwhelm us and fool us into believing that we’re not accomplishing anything at all, because so much is left undone and time seems to be slipping away.
While I stand on the cusp of belief, suspended between a respect for Fate and a desire to command my own destiny, I know the balance truly lies somewhere in between. One of the characteristics that my favorite writers and personal heroes – Mark Twain, Kurt Vonnegut, and Abraham Lincoln- seemed to have in common was a despondent but hopeful sense of jest. They understood that the world was oftentimes a dark and gloomy place, where bad things happen to good people and even the soundest of arguments can fall on deaf ears; but they also, beneath it all, had a stunningly rigorous hope in humanity and common decency. They approached life, through so many bitter hardships, with a jovial spirit – a willingness and even eagerness to laugh. To laugh, I have learned, whenever and as much as possible (especially, sometimes, when least appropriate) can be one of the most healing, most important means of possibility in the world.
In these thirty years, and especially in these last few as a book blogger, I have also come to believe in the transformative power of kindness and gratitude. Two sides of the same coin, a diamond idea forged in the primordial paradigm: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Be Kind. This is the most difficult and also the simplest task known to man. It is so incredibly easy to think of ourselves – to know what makes us happy or sad; angry or joyful; desired or unwelcome. But if we could consistently put as much energy into caring for and appreciating others as we spend on our own needs, our own wants, well – what a world we could make!
I have my faults – I’ve stumbled, and still do. I’ve been a gossip and I’m well-known for my sarcasm and my blunt (sometimes brutal) honesty. But people can change, people can grow, and I believe I continue to do so every day. The thing about growth, though, is one has to be open to the idea. Books and blogging help me, here. I’ve been transported, time and again, to places unimaginable – made to walk in shoes that didn’t fit, but which guided me down roads paved in the greatest wisdom. Blogging has helped me to open up and communicate these ideas – these journeys – with others, those who are also intellectual and spiritual vagabonds, equally willing to learn and to grow. Thirty years of life and three years of active engagement have proven to me that the two things most likely to change the world are kindness and generosity. To smile and say hello. To ask someone how they are doing and care enough to listen when they answer. To give up something you can do without, in order that another who really needs it can benefit from it. To love so much and laugh so much and smile so much that it hurts. These are the things that make life worth living.
In thirty years, and three, I’ve learned that the older we get, the faster time seems to pass. We might sometimes find ourselves mourning those things we never took the time to do – lamenting lost opportunities that might never come again. But when those despairing moods strike, it is important to remember that as long as there is life still in us, then there is time still, too – time to dream and to achieve. Take a moment to look at the stars and imagine. . . their majestic, incomparable light burned out thousands – millions – of years ago, but the beauty and power of that light still reaches us today, across time and distance immeasurable. Let’s never dupe ourselves into thinking that it’s too late to make our mark on the universe. There is no such thing as too late. Those so-distant stars have been dead for years, but they’re still inspiring us to wish and to wonder. Maybe we can do the same for the generations who’ll follow us.
Maybe we can.