“so many stories of where I’ve been / and how I got to where I am…” — Brandi Carlile “The Story”

Zero to Sixty

One take on the age-old question of how-old-are-you: give your age with the year you were born and let others do the math. For me, this last week marks the end of one decade and the start of another, and all the baggage and reflection and promise and astonishment that happens in the turning of this page. Born in 1962, at the dawn of peace-love-&-understanding, I have seen some things unfold, collapse, re-emerge, ignite and sputter, freaking burn and hallelujah-rise. Along the way, though I learned a ton, I am confounded and astounded — still. The biggest truth I know is that the answers are mostly questions, and that is okay.

Major enormous formative events happened in my minor tiny formative years. There was the Cuban Missile Crisis. And Ruby Bridges continued integrating her grade-school, all by herself. President Kennedy was assassinated. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his “I Have A Dream” speech. The Peace Corps was formed. The Beatles had their first single. ZIP-codes were invented. Dr. King led a march from Selma to Montgomery. The Civil Rights Act (twice) and the Voting Rights Act became laws. The first Black actor won an Academy Award. The first African-American justice was seated on the U.S. Supreme Court. The very first Super Bowl was played. Dr. King was assassinated. Rolling Stone magazine was launched. Bobby Kennedy was assassinated. ‘Sesame Street’ debuted. Woodstock. Moon landings. Watergate. You guys: that was my first decade. No wonder some of us were shaped by peace and war, equality, justice, service, violence and non-violence, mistrust, connections, possibilities, and rock-n-roll. We are not messing around when we say, “In my lifetime…”. Our big takeaway: we contain multitudes, and we are often defined one way yet also another.

Here is the briefest distillation of what the fifties were about: discovery, yes, and uncovering what was already there.

You will be proud. Proud of your kids — bless them, so damn proud. And of your sisters — who are your people deep to the cellular root level. Proud of something you built, or grew or baked or designed or wrote. You’ll be proud of colleagues and friends and fam who are cutting their own path and achieving all kinds of feats, starting something new, believing it will come together and just being inspirational like it’s their job. Proud of your gray hairs, and comfortable shoes that are kind of cute. Proud of debts paid, stamps in a passport, of your spouse’s landscaping talents. Proud of downsizing your home and upgrading your yard. Proud that something you wrote was published, that you got a college student peer mental health group off the ground. Proud of hitting some level of fitness, creating a circle of friendship that is rock solid, learning something new (even if technology forced it upon you), running some distance, rescuing the sweetest dog, shopping local, saying the important things. Simple, and complex.

You will trust. Yourself. Your guts, your spidey-sense. You’ll trust history and precedent. You’ll believe you are not going to mess this up, and you might actually make it better. You’ll feel confident. Beautiful, even. You’ll hear you are beautiful from someone other than your parents, who are supposed to say that anyway. You’ll be scarred and marred and battle-weary, but you’ll be stronger than you thought, and you’ll PR some races and outrun some preconceptions. You will hike the hills, watch the sun rise over the lake, drive all night to get there, say ‘I love you’ right out loud. I promise you: you can sit in the darkness of trauma and loss, and bookmark that page because in two years you will not believe how you struggled and strived and survived, and you will marvel (because it is marvelous) when good things happen in a space that was once only sad and raw. Peace, and heartache.

There will be joy. You will sing. And dance. Maybe you’ll dance with your own sons at weddings, or sing quietly under your breath listening to someone you love on acoustic guitar. You will celebrate — all the victories. You’ll be diehard for your teams, your people, championing them like they are the actual champions they truly are. In an unforgettable development, you write about your underdog hometown team, and they gift you tickets to see them in a freaking World Series game. Your kids become adults, and you will watch them graduate and move on to what is next, and maybe you have to dash from one celebration to catch a flight halfway across the continent to be at the next celebration the following morning because it feels like it is all happening at warp-speed. You’ll move your kids into other time-zones, in road-trips rich with podcasts about what a wingnut Henry Ford was, and with a mix of George Strait and “The Lion King” as soundtrack. You’ll wish your parents were alive to see all this. Whirlwind, and stillness.

There will be heartache. Odds are the entire goddamn bottom will fall out of something, and so many will look to you for guidance, or support, or direction, or just a yummy dessert. Odds are also you will break or be broken in some kind of way. There is very little good news about this EXCEPT you have such awesome reserves, are able and stable, have these unbelievable friends you have grown with over the years, and hopefully have taken decent care of your own health and wellbeing so when the curveballs come in hot, you are not knocked permanently off kilter. The bad news is pain is part of the human condition. The good news is we know that, and even if we don’t see it coming, we have a network of resources we’ve spent lo these last five/six decades building, like a decent roof and sturdy foundation. If we have those kinds of resources, we are also energized to work toward access to care for everyone, because no one emerges unscathed and easing the pain is possible. Broken, and healing.

You will be steady. You like what you like. You’ll walk the dog. Grow heirloom tomatoes and create a killer salsa recipe. Your people will know you are a certain way; they will see something that makes them think of you — inside jokes and shared history, silly laughter and chapters of stories told and retold. Your daughter will go on a study-abroad for three weeks, so you write her 21 notes you tuck in her suitcase— one to read each day — and she reads them all on Day 1 because she wants to know what you have to say. You finally travel for fun and curiosity for your own self, even going overseas for the first time, and when you send a postcard back, you sign it “Enclosed please find $5”, the same exact way your dad did. Your kids subscribe you to MLB All-Access every year. And they send you links about Lyle Lovett or Guy Clark or the Great Lakes, or an interview with the author of “Because of Winn Dixie”, or videos of them singing along to an obscure cover song in Nashville— and you rest assured that your influence happened, is happening. Maybe you are predictable. More likely, you are a sturdy reliable constant — and you worked hard to prioritize what you prioritize. Gentle, and bold.

You will be brave. There will be illness and isolation, shutdowns and heartbreak. Too much time will pass before hugging the necks of the ones who have your back. Unbelievably, your beloved uncle is alone in a hospital seven states away, and also unbelievably you have a former student in medical rotation there and your student finds your uncle and video-chats your aunt who cannot be inside due to pandemicky protocols. These are powerful connections in action. After your uncle dies, you drive straight through, across those seven states, in the height of virus data ticking ever upward, to be with family and sit outdoors in parks in January wearing masks and drinking coffee and watching the news of insurrection just down the street. You don’t know a time more surreal that this. You support your kid from across geography as they begin new chapters, going it solo & socially distanced, and when you finally see each other, after fifteen long months apart, you cry standing in the road — in the damn road — outside the SeaTac airport. And strangers tearfully watch, because this is the new human condition: shattered, and whole.

You will be tested And tired. Tired of inaction. Tired of leaders gaslighting people. Tired of lies paraded as truths. You’ll chose your informed sources and dismiss propaganda out of hand, zero tolerance. You’ll see people in power diminish and marginalize others and other-ness. So you act, quietly and locally. Get yourself on committees, use your voice. Train up as an election official. Use PTO to work the polls, insure safe and fair access. You work Central Count, tallying absentee ballots in a crucially important election in the midst of a pandemic, working against the clock to process stacks of boxes of ballots before midnight. Then you’ll be called back for recounts. Twice. And do it again, while loudsters in their patriot regalia shout about cheating and stealing and you unfolding the ballot in a suspicious way. You have to find a new salon because the hairdresser who cut your hair for years says racist things. You set boundaries, and you honor them. Worn, and restored.

You will answer. Answer the call. Ringer on ‘loud’. You will walk your beloveds through some nasty storms, even though you do not know the way — because you already know we are all better alongside than alone. The losses are inevitable in this decade, but those unanticipated ones will knock you sideways and sometimes you will be the guardrail and sometimes you will collapse into whoever is holding onto you. You will fly back across the whole entire ocean when a family member is killed by a reckless driver, and nothing will ever be the same — except the important things stay important and the ache is part of you but not all of you. Unanticipated wrinkle: your kids learn from you to show up, and you see them doing it, too — another level of circles becoming unbroken. Your children see relationships blossom, or end. And it is magical, or sorrowful — because it matters. You may have more people calling you family, and you gather them in. Abundance, and loss.

You will question. Question value and worth, risk and reward. You will decide in favor of joy, of connection, of time with people you love, in favor of justice and access and equality and compassion. You will work to better recognize and honor yourself, and all your 9w1/INFJ traits, your bedrock beliefs and distant dreams. You will be tapped to lead in a brand new undertaking, and asking questions is the love-language of creating a safe return to sport and school for your students. You learn it is important to be loved but it is profound to be understood. So you lean to the side of understanding, and it becomes a core value. Space, and grace.

You will be more, and do more, than any list of goals or achievements. You spend time and waste time, you enjoy every sandwich. You will be passionate. And you will nap. It’s called balance.

Wrapping up a decade loaded with achievements and realizations, efforts, victories, and losses, the taste is a little bittersweet because it is right there in the end-notes that neither parent lived past 70. It’s also a stunner that a pivotal cancer diagnosis handed down to you, more than two decades ago, carried no survival data past ten years. So the numbers are really only numbers, not answers at all. If the ‘60’s were the era of Peace, Love, and Understanding, then so too shall be the 60s. Everything old is new again.

You learn stuff that works, what is real, what you feel. Amen. (SeaTac airport, May 2021)

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