50 About 50: Caring Less and Caring More

Today is a good day to post two of the 50 About 50 lists I started last week. As you will recall, these posts are leading up to my 50th birthday on Thursday, July 28. Because of the double list, today’s post runs a bit long. I hope you enjoy it anyway. As always, please feel free to respond with comments or your own items for the lists!

10 Things I Find Myself Caring Less About

1. What Others Think

Its a little strange to immediately contradict myself, but I DO care what others think. I will always be interested in how people think, why they’ve reached the conclusions they have. I am happy to reflect on the ways their thinking might illuminate mine. That said, in my younger years I tended to be unduly influenced by others. My own thoughts were like feathers easily blown in a new direction by another’s, more forcefully, declaimed idea. Now, I find I am able to continue in my own direction while remaining open to course corrections based on new information.

2. What Others Think About Me

Finally, I have reached the point in life where I am no longer incapacitated by concerns about what others think about me. Do I care? Yes, sometimes about some things. Mostly, though, I am happy to be the person I am.

3. So-called “Rules”

For most of my life, I have been an inveterate rule-follower. Breaking a rule, even one which might arguably exist only inside my own head,  just felt wrong. Often, even contemplating breaking the rule would induce hyperventilation. Social conventions and mores (such as waiting for an explicit invitation, saying the polite if untrue thing, etc.) still have a certain hold on me. More and more, though, I find that part of living and maturing is learning when to break out – and break a few rules.

4. Weeds, among other “unsightly” things

People say not to compare apples to oranges, because they are two different things.  Well, I was listening to a scientist on NPR one day, who said we needed to change that idiom. At the cellular level, he said, apples and oranges are the same thing! Weeds, flowers, hostas…at the cellular level aren’t they really all the same? I put my energy into the things that matter to me. I don’t waste a lot of energy on the “weeds” in life (or my flower beds) anymore.

5. Cognitive Structure

Things need to make sense, have order, structure, be inherently fair. Or so I once thought. I’m (mostly) through with trying to tidy up all of my beliefs, my thoughts, my emotions into a neat package. The world is wide and full of wondrous things. Its not my brain’s job to rearrange the furniture of the universe. See, accept, wonder, be in awe –  this may be enough responsibility for one human brain.

6. Being in Fashion

Fashions come and go. What looks good on me mostly remains the same.

7. Noise

Dear Mom: on this point, as on so many others, I concede that you were right all along. Sometimes I go whole days without voluntarily creating extra noise (radio, Pandora, television, etc.) in my house. Sometimes, silence is too precious to squander.

8. Television

Like most of America, I enjoyed The Voice when it began airing this spring. But I could miss it if something better – a social event, a good book, a workout, or a quiet summer evening – came along. I refuse to miss more life because “my show” is on television.

9. Body Hair

I don’t understand the current obsession with hairlessness. Yes, I pluck the stray black wires that periodically grow out of my chin. I have my hair stylist wax both my eyebrows and upper lip. But if I forget these things, I don’t run screaming from the mirror yelling words like, “Gross!”  Body hair is just body hair – it IS nature, not an affront to nature.

10. What Ifs/Fear-Based Scenarios

I’d like to say I’m over these completely, but that would be a lie. However, I no longer frighten myself at night wondering what I would do if a rapist crashed through my window in the wee hours. I don’t tell myself a lot of scary stories that begin with the words, “What if…”, just as I am about to embark on a new activity or adventure. What I’ve discovered is that these thoughts act like a prophylactic, preventing a life pregnant with possibilities. In order to live fully, I’ve needed to cut way back on scaring myself with stories of doom.

10 Things I Find Myself Caring More About

1. Beauty

The experience of beauty opens the heart: to perception, clarity, healing. The human heart craves beauty, though we don’t often credit it as a need. In a poem published in 1911, James Oppenheim wrote of women seeking justice, crying out for bread but also for roses – and it is such an appropriate juxtaposition. The staff of life (bread) and the stuff of life (beauty=roses).

2. Health and Vigor

Things you take for granted in your youth, for $200, Alex!

3. Other People’s Children

My nephews, neices, godchildren and the many other children who feel like my neices and nephews. But also, the young adults I have had the pleasure to know and work with in my career in Student Affairs. When I was a young adult myself, I thought I would be “the fun aunt”, that I would have a lot of good advice to impart to my students. Time has shown that the reverse is true – other people’s children have enriched my life, have taught me so many lessons about life, love, and the importance of not taking the teachable moment too far. Thank you to the parents for sharing their children’s lives with me. And to the OPCs themselves: each of you remains in my heart.

4. Animals (and other species)

I am not a pet person. But I am learning to love and appreciate what animals and other species bring to the world around us, and I am learning to care deeply about their continued existence on our planet.

5. Wisdom

I used to pray for wisdom, as a teen. I always felt so stupid, I thought that if I was gifted with wisdom, I would suddenly feel more confident. What I am discovering as I age is that wisdom isn’t about feeling self-confident. It is about caring enough to self-reflect as a means of continuing to develop and grow into the person I was meant to be.

6. Trying New Things

They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Well, that’s only true if the dog doesn’t want to do anything new. And I DO!

7. Honesty/Truth

Its probably not a good thing to admit, in writing, that I am a really good liar. Further, if I am being truly honest, I must admit that I have lied purposefully and often, and not only to myself. But here’s the rub: every time I deny the truth, or “pretty it up” in some way, I deny my own self. This cuts to the heart of why honesty is a virtue and so closely aligned with the concept of integrity. No integrated whole can wantonly deny its own parts. The older I get, the more life experience I accummulate, the more important honesty becomes as a personal value.

8. Compassion/Mercy

I am, and have always been, a really good reader. I can put myself square into a character’s psyche and emotional make-up with little effort. I used to think this was a sign that I excelled at compassion and empathy. Really, that was just fiction. True compassion, true mercy, requires a willingness to enter fully, as myself, into another person’s messy life.  I am just learning the depth of character true compassion requires. I hope, someday, to embody it myself.

9. Unconditional Love

“Human beings, like plants, grow in the soil of acceptance, not in the atmosphere of rejection” said John Powell, in his book titled Unconditional Love. I read the book my freshman year of college, as did many of my friends, and we bandied around the concept quite a lot. I can remember saying to people (wince), “I love you. Unconditionally.”  What a crock! At 19, I hadn’t the vaguest clue what that meant, and no pop-psych book was going to enlighten me. I had to learn what it means the old fashioned way – by torturing myself and others, by saying hurtful things and tearfully rescinding them, by seeing the worst in myself or another and then – joyfully – discovering that I still felt love. This loving unconditionally is no easy thing. I believe it is worth the effort to practice, though, in the hope of someday being really and truly good at it.

10. This Moment

I not only care more about this one, I am in love with this one! I used to live in the past or the future, anywhere but the here and now. When and how that changed is the story I’ve been telling in this blog. One of the best things about my life now is that I am living it right here, in this moment – and I am so grateful for the present.