Insights Learned From Sixty Birthdays - Stephanie DelTorchio google4228e52aa5dfebc8.html

Insights Learned From Sixty Birthdays

Insights Learned from many birthdays

Birthdays that end in zero are worth a pause. Another decade in the books is a good reminder to take stock of where you’ve been and decide where you want to go next…before you run out of candles.

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I woke up this morning, on my 60th birthday, and had two immediate thoughts:

#1 GRATITUDE.

Over the last twenty or so years, since my mate’s cancer, this has been my first waking thought. I’ve learned to be thankful and to express pure gratitude for all things, large and small.

#2 AWE.

As in, how the fuck did I get here?

Meaning when did I stop being a snot-nosed kid who collected butterflies in mayonnaise jars and become this old lady? With gray hairs and wrinkles, a turkey neck and grandkids?

31,557,600 minutes have ticked by. It seems like a hefty number for someone my age. How many do I actually remember? How many did I waste? Given the chance, how many would I want the chance to do-over?

“Big” birthdays

Birthdays ending in zero are pivot points of sorts. We call them “the big ones” because when a decade chapter ends it gets our attention. We stand up a bit straighter, do a mental review of the past ten years and wonder which nursing facility offers the best wi-fi reception.

My driver’s license, up for renewal in ten years, brings queasiness. Just as I can’t fathom how ten years has passed by, I can’t imagine myself ten years older. Will I be that woman squinting through the eye exam machine guessing whether the apple is on or off the table?

My gift

I started writing this blog to fill the void between gigs and decided it would become a place to impart some wisdom, as a gift to my kids. I’ve decided to let them know a few things their old lady learned in the past sixty years in hope it helps them deal with people and life issues in general. Since our beloved Boston Red Sox broke the Curse of the Bambino in 2004, I’ve scratched out “keep the faith for the home sports team.”

Whether they read it now or years after I’ve moved on to my next assignment, doesn’t matter. However, hidden within the thousands of pages I’ve written, is their inheritance as well as the clues to the safety deposit box combination.

In no particular order kids, here we go:

1. Disappointments in people

As I have no doubt caused disappointments in others so too have others disappointed me. You have two options: Work it out for good, or walk away. I’ve done both. You will too. Neither is easy.

2. Disappointments in decisions

You’ll make some truly awful decisions and questionable choices.

Nobody can ever be more disappointed in me than me. Thankfully, I’ve prayed “Help Me!” for grace and forgiveness and made peace with the truly bad lapses in judgement. Carrying guilt and condemnation robs you of life. When you know better you do better. I do better now.

3. White Lies

I told my mother a little white lie once and got caught. It was about a boy. I was sixteen. Need I say more? Up until that point I’d never lied to her (that I honestly remember). The look of disappointment on her face stayed etched in my heart for years. After having my own kids I finally apologized to her. She pointed to my toddlers: “There’s your penance.”

4. Big Lies

The biggest lies I’ve ever told were to myself. I’m not good enough. Not pretty enough. Not tall enough. Not smart enough. And on and on. Each big lie caused the greatest personal harm that I carried for years.

Self-inflicted hurt is about the worst thing you can do. You become the perpetrator, victim, judge and jury all rolled into one.

I’ve learned that despite my flaws I am good enough. I am worthy. I am a child of the Most High. I only wish I’d tattooed that on my brain as an acne faced prepubesent. Hear that?

5. Big Mistakes

My biggest mistakes aren’t mistakes at all. They were chances taken that didn’t turn out as expected. To call them mistakes is to imply drug deals gone wrong. Not true. Smoking pot in the 70’s was normal behavior. I just didn’t expect to develop a lingering cough.

I also thought a business venture or partnership would bring prosperity and security to me and my family. When these next great ideas went south it wasn’t the end of the world, but it sure felt that way. With time, the positive lessons learned from “big mistakes” propelled me to take more chances to make more “mistakes”.

And now marijuana is legal in my state. Big mistake.

6. Life is a paradox

It’s both magical and miserable. Beautiful and ugly. Equal and fair and horribly divided and biased. Sometimes you get to choose. Sometimes it chooses you. You might question the sanity of this world’s designer. It’s probably in your best interest to be a good person, contribute as member of society and do your best.

7. And a crapshoot

See above. Some things make zero sense so don’t wreck your brain wasting precious time trying to figure it out. I’m convinced it’s a game of a deranged maestro and we’re disposable oboe players. Well, I think that way after a few glasses of wine.

Shit happens. Sometimes it happens to you.

For #6 and #7 I can only hope that upon my death the Almighty hands me two things: A bottle of the finest Cabernet reserve and the Big Book of Answers.

8. The Roads Not Traveled

Also called regrets; something I hope to not have any more of before I go.

I regret not moving from Boston to California after high school to pursue a career in writing for film and television. I regret not traveling further than a day trip away while young and single. I regret not joining the military. All of these regrets were based on two things:

1. What other people might say, and

2. Fear.

I don’t care anymore what people might say and I refuse to live in fear.

I finally went to California to write. And I traveled out of my city to other countries. Sadly, the military no longer considers me fit for duty.

9. Love

It’s opposite of what the glossy magazine covers advertise. And exactly what the Bible tells us it is:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 1 Corinthians 13

This passage is read at weddings. Next time you get all dolled up and go to one listen to the words. Commit them to memory.

Love is freely given and taken away. I’ve had to fight for it, defend it and apologize on its behalf. Still, I believe in true love. The fairy tale kind. Without the ball gown. Without the glass slippers.

10. First love

Don’t forget your first love.

I keep a rare birthday card my dad sent to me the year after my mother passed away. He wrote: “I loved you the first time I laid eyes on you.” In the seven years since his death I pull it out on my birthday. It makes me happy to cry for missing him and his annual Happy Birthday serenade phone call.

The day he passed I whispered in his ear: “You were the first man I ever loved. I’ll never forget you.” I wanted him to know it went both ways.

11. Marriage

I married the second man I’d ever loved. We’ve been at this love thing for more than forty years so I guess it’s fair to say that we’ve strapped ourselves in for the long haul.

Let me be honest kids: a lot of shit happens over the course of forty years no matter how “in love” you profess to be. It’s not always been pretty or easy but it’s always been full of laughter and genuine kindness.

I believe the key to a happy marriage is to be respectful, fight fairly, learn the difference between the little shit and the big shit, and work it out accordingly.

Takeaway: Sometimes you need to smile, shut up and suck it up.

12. Happiness

It’s a state of mind that you can summon at will. I’ve witnessed happiness on the faces of people in times of terrible life circumstances and in moments of wry self-deprecation. There’s a positive reason for choosing happiness over sadness. It gets you through lots of crap. If you don’t see something that makes you happy today, look harder. Trust me on this one, it’s worth hunting for.

13. Reality

We create our own world. Some things we see collectively — the blue door, the chocolate cake, the sandy beach. Others are visions of our own imagination. You create it. You live it. Make it what you want. Just don’t expect everyone else to see it your way.

14. Beauty

Beauty is subjective. Forget the reflection in the mirror and look inward for your true beauty. Do the same for every person you meet.

Then turn your sights out into the world. There you will find Mother Nature has plated a never-ending buffet of beautiful things that will take your breath away.

15. Choice

In this life you have free will. I’m not sure where I learned this line: Use wisely your power of choice, but it’s a good piece of advice. Opportunities and relationships are choices, just like plastic or paper, baked or fried, democrat or republican. In other words, weigh the pros and cons before you act.

16. Physical Health

I never gave my health any real thought until serious illness struck home. Although some health issues are preventable, others come at you like a bolt of lightning out of nowhere. That said, you’ve got one body. If you feed it crap you’ll feel like crap. If you don’t move it eventually it won’t move you. It you don’t take care of yourself who will?

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17. White flour and white sugar

As much as possible avoid these.

Except when you bring your children to my home. Then it’s my house, my rules.

18. Spirituality

I was raised a Catholic and taught religious education classes for many years, which I loved. Over time my views waxed and waned but I’ve remain committed to believing in something greater “out there”. I know that whenever I need help it’s always there waiting for me to ask.

19. It can always be worse

No matter your situation, someone has it worse than you.

When my mate got seriously ill, and especially when things looked rather bleak, we agreed that it could be worse. That was the day I got off the hospital elevator onto the wrong floor. The door opened on the children’s cancer ward.

20. Optimism

Growing up around negative people, being optimistic was like the rare Blue Morpho butterfly. I heard it existed but had never seen one for myself. Learn to surround yourself with upbeat positive people who make you believe anything is possible. Today I’m optimistic the Blue Morpho will appear. Some day.

21. Saying ‘Yes’ or ‘No’

Take a chance and say yes to new things. Listen to your gut and say no to protect yourself. Either way, be firm and resolute.

22. Blessings

Seriously, from my thick head of hair to the forked toe on my right foot, I am blessed. I have food and a place to live. I have people who care about me and people I get to care about. I do meaningful work. I have tomatoes on the vine that the damn deer haven’t eaten this year. Blessed.

23. Sadness

It never leaves you. It takes vacation but always returns. I’ve learned that sadness is our connection to the people and situations we’ve lost yet it feels impossible to recover. Our frustration manifests itself as sadness, and it’s okay to be sad. Eventually the light returns in small streaks and we allow ourselves to remember the love again, without the sadness.

24. Learn a new language

Forget what you learned in high school French class.

When I traveled to Italy the greatest tip on learning the language came from a YouTube polyglot. Write down, in English (or your native language), the most probable phrases you’ll use while traveling abroad. “How much is this?” “A glass of red wine and a margarita pizza, please.” “Does this train stop in Lucca?” Translate each phrase, sentence or question into the foreign language.

Because I still harbor travel phobias, my list included “Get the fuck away from me.” For weeks I practiced the key phrases and especially the last one, until I could say each with conviction.

On the train from Florence to the progressively smaller and less touristy towns to Poggibonsi, a young couple working in tandem tried to steal my bag. “FAI IL CAZZO DA ME! I’m not sure how literally it translated but they were impressed enough with my tone to leave me the fuck alone.

25. Travel/Adventure

I feared to travel beyond a five mile radius from my home. My parents packed emergency gear for a trip to the mall so it became ingrained in me that travel required extra underwear and road flares.

Then I took a group trip to Europe. And then I traveled alone in the fashion of Frances Mayes’s Under the Tuscan Sun. One day I’m afraid to venture past my the end of the driveway, and then flash forward, I’m eating hazelnut gelato while comfortably strolling the hill towns of Tuscany, alone (my blog’s cover photo).

26. The best days

Best days are really moments that when recalled bring back a time of untold joy.

My best days have been welcoming in and bringing home the people I love:

The birth of each child, despite their insistence they were mistakes. An eighties perm was a mistake. We wanted each child we got. Maybe not in the order or timing, but we learned to accept what we could not change.

Taking my husband home from the hospital after weeks of chemotherapy, radiation and a bone marrow transplant.

Meeting each new member of the next generation.

The best days.

27. The worse days

Worse days are when you feel worthless, incompetent or helpless.

The worse feeling for a spouse, parent, child, relative or friend is when any one of your tribe hurts and you are unable to take their pain away despite your efforts. You want to scream from the rooftops; chase your kids with bandages and blankets. Your “job” is to make everything right again. And sometimes you can’t.

It sucks the most when someone you love leaves the planet. The hole is deep and wide and dark and endless.

28. What you can fake and what you can’t fake

You can’t fake love or pain for very long. But everything else you can. For as long as you need to.

29. Always be learning

My dad said, “If you can read you can anything.” Best educational advice ever.

30. You are worthy

Don’t listen to the rhetoric of haters. You’re worthy, period. You don’t need validation so stop looking for it. ‘Nuff said.

31. Everybody has a story

Before you judge or believe what you hear or read, pause and try imagining the world through the eyes of someone else’s viewpoint. There’s probably a very good reason for their words or behavior of which you know nothing about. Listen. Open your mind and heart. Your hope is they do the same for you.

32. Good people and freakin’ assholes

Love, kindness and compassion for each other is evident in small random acts of kindness and full outpourings of humanity and relief in the wake of disasters. The world is full of goodhearted people.

However, there’s a smidgen of nasty people on this Earth who exited their mother’s womb with an axe to grind. Unfortunately they claim a disproportionate amount of attention. Don’t let them taint your values or compromise your integrity in the name of hate or revenge.

Be a good person. Do not be a freakin’ asshole.

33. (Almost) everything is fixable

Things are rarely as broken as they appear. Sometimes a little glue or duct tape will keep the muffler on the car until you get to the service station.

Even divided relationships, misunderstandings and hurt feelings have promise.

But when things are irretrievably broken down it’s better to cut your losses and move on. There’s no need to spend years dragging the muffler, tearing up the streets.

34. Don’t take it personally

This is one of the four agreements in Don Miguel Ruiz’s book, The Four Agreements.

Most people who lash out at you are hurting inside. It’s hard to not take it personally when someone trashes your name and reputation or spreads lies about you. But it’s imperative to do so to maintain your healthy life.

Honestly, you need to get good at not taking things personally ’cause you’re gonna face this one over and over.

Takeaway on getting older

It’s a privilege to grow old.

With that comes responsibility to share your knowledge, deliver wisdom and help the next generation take their rightful place. By the way, you have a better chance of being heard if you don’t start off by saying: “Well back in my day…” Save that one okay?

Teach if possible. Write. Record. Create. Leave a legacy for your tribe.

So on this day of turning the page to another decade, I humbly offer thanks for still being vertical and promise my kids that in the coming decade I’ll try to learn some more insightful tidbits to share.

BE F♥CKING AWESOME TODAY! (#BeFAT)

If you enjoyed this post or got something out of it, please subscribe to this blog or leave a comment if you’d like me to create more writings like this. Thanks so much. I hope you have a great day. XO

Other posts you might like:

THE DAY THAT LAUNCHED A LIFESTYLE
One couple’s deliberate pact to find happiness in the face of a stunning cancer diagnosis

LEAVE A PERSONAL LEGACY
Famous people with famous legacies and why you should leave one too.

YOUR FLAWS ARE NOBODY’S BUSINESS
Everybody else should get over it!

Original graphic: Stephanie DelTorchio

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