(photo credit: Omo Tseumah)

Ten Commandments of an Everyday Life

In response to my friend Tim Cigelske (who laid down a challenge of “list ten things about you” as if this was an “about me” section of a blog…). Rather than cull together a list of facts about me, here are simple things I believe. And before you get all holier-than-moi on this, understand there is a tiny contingent of college friends once upon a time who called me ‘Moses’ (which stemmed from having too many people named Maureen, all of whom went by Mo, all in one place) — I don’t answer to it any longer, but come on: Moses, Top Ten list…why not. Here goes.

10. Stay in exploration. Seriously, that could be the name of my memoir. Someone in my cohort in grad school wrote that on an index card for me, in the form of constructive criticism, when we were first learning the nuts and bolts of counseling practices. It was super-helpful, and probably set the framework for how I approach mental health issues and outcomes. But it goes way beyond that, too. I love when organic learning occurs, or when I figure out something complicated, or just get blown away by sunrise. Stay open. Stay in exploration.

9. Breathe. Ha, I was going to say “sweat”, but that was kind of gross. But really, don’t be afraid to get sweaty. I found running worked for me in my forties and fifties in a way it flat out did not work for me back in gym class in my youth. Also, yoga — it can be challenging, especially if you keep pushing yourself…which is true of many things. Hike the hill. Wade in the river. Walk the beach. Try paddleboarding. Run a two-state relay. Make an effort every day. Invest in a parks membership, get outside. But also, sit quietly on the patio. Nap on the porch. And when nerves hit, as they will: start with head over heart, heart over pelvis, and breathe.

8. Support artists. Go to museums and street fairs. Shop farmer’s markets and bake sales and lemonade stands. Buy original art, curate a collection in your own home. Tip live musicians. Shop local. Go to libraries and community theaters. Applaud the marching band. Wander arboretums. Give museum or parks passes as gifts. Sign up for poem-a-day emails. Paint a room. Or channel Homer’s mom in “Rocket Boys” (October Sky — you know, they had to rearrange the letters in the title of the book so the title of the movie was more badass) and paint a damn mural on the kitchen wall. Make your own world beautiful by finding something personal in art and supporting artists.

7. Trust. Listen to yourself, and when you need to, seek counsel from someone you trust (generally, not the worldwide web). I found it was okay to take a pay cut to do something I love. I also found most of my parenting was summed up by yelling “make good choices” whenever my kids exited the car, the house, the room — and trusting they would, or they’d ask for help. You have one more mile in you, which might be a metaphor, or really about that mile. Tell your girlfriends you’d be lost without them, they are your North Star. Figure out what you cannot be without — know which ship already sailed, and which is still in the harbor. And if it sailed too soon, maybe figure out how to get yourself out to it. Sleep with the ringer on loud, so when those hard calls come, because someone seeks YOU as their touchstone, you won’t miss it. There is no substitute, no half-assedness, about trust.

6. Comfort. Let empathy be your jam. Start small — fill the birdfeeders, adopt a rescue dog. Volunteer to deliver a meal to the volunteers at the local JVC house. Take tickets for the ballgame, or giftcards to restaurants, to the Ronald McDonald House so families far from home have an option tonight. Deliver valentines to the Veterans Hospital. Show up — everything good starts with that. Eventually, we are all going to get slammed by a bad turn of events; when your friends are worn or weary, show up. Walk the dog, do the dishes, shovel the walk, sit in the dark with them. Be sad together, which beats the hell out of being sad alone. Say, “tell me about him/her” and listen as they remember the person they’ve lost. We are our best community when we build support for each other; even in the storms, we can offer comfort.

5. Write it down. Leave a trail, leave a legacy. Write down the funny things your little kids are saying or doing; I know you’re sleep-deprived and days melt into each other. Take a hot second and write it down. Years from now, they’ll love it, and you will barely remember it. Write what is important, in a journal or a blog or a google doc. My dad sent postcards from every place he traveled, most ending, “Enclosed please find $5”. When we packed to move, I found my son had a drawer full of these cards, collected over the years. In case you wonder if writing can create action, I once wrote passionately about being a lifelong Cleveland Indians fan, and sent it to their offices, then found myself with tickets to a World Series game. Put it out there. Leave a post-it note with a timely message stuck on a coworker’s computer, or in your child’s lunchbox. When I had to leave in the dark night to drive to Ohio in my mom’s last hours, a note from my son was taped to my car’s rearview mirror: “Love you, Mom — safe travels. Tell grandma I love her.” You bet I still have it. Write it down.

4. It’s the little things. More than grand gestures, genuine care is often in the details. It’s someone bringing you coffee, it’s good-morning texts, it’s inside jokes, enthusiastic welcomes and long goodbyes, time together, driving across plains or mountains to get there, laughing across the table. Little things like taking good care of yourself: wear the boots you love, have pancakes for dinner, buy the good whisky, travel, read, tend a garden, bake from scratch, eat at local diners, take the backroads, stop at the scenic overlooks, pay extra money for the good pillows, get rid of the godawful wallpaper, listen to Naomi Shahib Nye read “Gate A-4”, or Brandi Carlile sing “The Story”. Like what you like — it’s the little things.

3. Be Kind. Henry James said it best: “Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.” Make it your default setting. In a world where you can be anything, be kind.

2. Leave Nothing Unsaid. You have to say what matters, to not let fear of heartbreak cause the heartbreak of regret. You don’t have to go through your days all vulnerable like a turtle with no shell. But you do have to say “hey, this is important”, when it’s important. You can whisper it in the dark, like that first ‘I love you’. Or you can say it aloud, statement of facts: “I’ll miss you”, “I believe in you”, “that’s not right.” Or you can speak truth to the bullsh!t that riles you, you know: calling out the fact that there’s a person who doesn’t believe in public education leading the U.S. Dept. of Education— for instance. Silence is complicity. Speak up, speak out, leave nothing unsaid.

1. Enjoy every sandwich. At the end of my mom’s life, we were all sitting in her kitchen having lunch, and she said she thought we should have had salad, you know, fiber, greens, etc. My sister looked at her and said, I’d be eating Twinkies straight out of the box, and you’re wondering about the benefits of salad. There you have it: some days dessert wins, some days salad wins. Either way, be the hero of your own life.

Of course these are not commandments, per se; nothing untoward will happen if you don’t comply — we will just have philosophical differences, which is sort of normal. More, they are guidelines in case you want to align with me on any of these concepts. Except for #3, true every damn day.

credit: The New Yorker, via Facebook. (hold your eyeroll; it’s a little bit funny.)

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