I AM 40 YEARS OLD.
Balls... I feel like I'm supposed to say something profound and I'm not sure I have anything great to offer the world on this, the day of my 40th birthday. But if push comes to shove--and in this case shoving me over that great, big significant hill of a birthday--here's are some thoughts about this thing called life and what I've learned so far.
The older I get, the less I know.
Trippy. I would not have guessed this, but it feels the most true.
The life I've lead all feels very normal and typical to me, yet if I zoom out in my mind and see the world as a whole there is no such thing as normal or typical. My inner Feminist arrived without warning this year (late bloomer) and I have been rather preoccupied with what it means to be a woman in this world and what it means to be the mother of girls/future women. Growing up as a white woman in America in the 21st century is quite the earthly privilege. Even with all the imbalance, injustice, violence and misogyny I can't deny that the good fortune of being a woman here and now. Which in no way means that we should just shut up and be grateful because "it could always be worse." I'm just saying... for the most part I live in very fortunate circumstances.
But as I've said this "normal" and "typical" feeling isn't that normal or typical. The more I learn about the world, the more I see different perspectives and a different ways of being, the less I am able to judge. Our lives, and even our beings, are these crazy tangles of inborn traits, circumstances, decisions, and luck (good and bad).
In short, my perspective is minuscule. My experience, just as tiny. But my compassion and desire to be less judgmental are bigger than ever. Because I don't know jack.
Life is usually not either/or, more often than not it's and/both.
One of the more uncomfortable aspects of life for me has been learning to try and hold two opposing views at the same time and acknowledge them both as true. It would be so much easier if everything was an either/or.
True or false.
Happy or sad.
Beautiful or ugly.
Good or bad.
But more often than not I see and experience true and false.
Happy and sad.
Beautiful and ugly.
Good and bad.
Even, Republican and Democrat.
Believer and doubter.
Conformer and rebel.
I don't always know if I'm doing the right thing, but I strive very hard to do the true thing. As in, being true to myself, my family, my kids, my God. I check in with my heart more often (and God--that's key) to see what my intentions are. If my intentions are good and I'm doing the best I can with the information I have, I move forward. Of course being true to yourself and having good intentions don't always justify actions (I think we all know this), but often these two things are the very best we have to offer, and therefore an excellent foundation from which to make important, even difficult decisions.
There are infinite ways to be good and to have a good life.
When I was in undergrad at BYU working on my final show (fine art, painting major here) I remember doing this one painting that was not working at all. It was going really, really badly. So I took some turpentine to my canvas and erased what I had. It didn't come off entirely and small traces of that awful painting remained. But as I moved forward, the final painting came together quickly and easily. And the "remnants" from the awful painting were a critical part in making the painting work this time. In fact, the painting was only good in large part because of the remnants of the "awful painting." The mistakes were what made it work.
At that point in my life and in my religion, I had come to believe that mistakes were never a good thing. Sure God tolerated them, but isn't it always be best if we never make mistakes in the first place? No. I don't believe that anymore. I mean I definitely believe that with certain mistakes--you know, murder and stuff--but this idea that mistakes aren't part of the overall picture is wrong and even problematic.
I remember learning in my art program how and when to spot problem areas in my work. But fixing them seemed to present an even bigger problem. "OK, I see where I went wrong, but how do I make it right?" And it seemed to me at that time that there were more way to go wrong than there were to go right. Which is how I viewed life as well... it seemed to me that there were a infinite ways to screw up in life (drugs, premarital sex, alcohol, lying, laziness) and only a very small, narrow road to being good: go to seminary, go to a church school, get married, have children, have a great marriage, raise good children in Gospel-centered home. I HAD to do all these things, in this order, to have a good life and to be a good person.
In a sense, I thought there was more variety in "badness" than in "goodness."
Oh how very wrong I was. There are infinite ways to go right in this world and there is infinite variety in goodness. This may sound like a crazy correlation, but just look at the millions of flowers, plants and animal species there are on the earth. I mean it's crazy how many ways there are to go RIGHT in this world. There is not one small way for your life to be good, happy, fulfilling, or right.
For my painting, it wasn't about choosing the right direction, because there were literally thousands of directions I could go that would have worked for this painting. Instead of sitting and fretting and wondering if what I was doing was "right" I just needed to make a decision and move forward with that decision and trust the process. Likewise, in life I often find myself hemming and hawing and wondering "Am I doing the right thing? What is the right decision?" But usually I find that there is no one right way, but rather I should move forward and trust that God can work with me--mistakes and all--to make it right.
Well that's it.
That's all I have to offer you after 40 years of this earthly sojourn.
In the immortal words of Aaron Neville,