Lessons learned

When I was a teenager, I used to keep a list of the wise things my mother said. I called them her “rules for life,” and I had no doubt that one or the other of us would eventually use them as the starting point for a book. I meant to keep adding to them as the years went by, but I’m notoriously bad about writing myself notes and then forgetting where I’ve stashed them or–even worse–not writing them in the first place. (I’ve discussed my prematurely failing memory before, but let me assure you, the struggle is real and ongoing, and at this point I should really be moving through life with a notepad and pen permanently fixed in my grip.) I’m not sure which I did in this case, but I’ve been sitting here idle for an hour trying not to think about the list so I could remember what was on it (an old people trick, to be sure), and my brain doesn’t seem to possess any more than three.

Nevertheless–owing to the fact that there have been years when my life (figuratively) sucked donkey balls and I had to learn stuff to fix it–I have a list. Most are probably bits of truth and wisdom that have been around forever–continuously passed on, rephrased, and repurposed for a new audience. Some might be mine or Mama’s, and some might be direct quotes from people far wiser than I. Regardless of their provenance, I feel them all in my bones, and I carry them with me as reminders, as lessons, as shining examples of those times when my “book learning,” common sense, and unfailing ability to examine my own shortcomings might well have saved either my sanity or my life.

Consider this the first installment. There will almost certainly be more later.

The first time someone shows you who they are, believe them. ~Maya Angelou

Since 2013, I periodically stop, shake my head, and wonder at myself. Mama had been using this Angelou quote for years by that time, and I would have sworn that I would never fail to heed it. I was too smart, too aware by half. No asshole would get past me, dammit. If they showed me who they were–if they gave me any warning at all–I’d be gone so fast there would be skid marks on the floor.

Nope. It didn’t happen that way at all. Instead, I was caught entirely by surprise, despite the fact that I had been shown/told the nature of the person (from her own mouth/actions) thousands of times in the course of our relationship. Naturally, I’d like to believe that this couldn’t happen to me again, but I honestly don’t know. At bottom, I must have felt that being treated that way was what I deserved, otherwise I would’ve used my strong little froggy legs to leap from the hot water before it cooked me to death.

Never expect more than a grunt from a pig. (various origins, Irish)

This one always makes me smile, probably because I can’t think it without the visual coming to mind. But man…there have been a whole bunch of times in my life when I realized (sometimes after many years) that I had been doing exactly the opposite. If I expected someone to be kind or honest or faithful or just not an asshat when their very nature dictated that they could not be those things, eventually this saying would come to mind. Unfortunately, that typically didn’t happen until I’d already had my fill and was on my way out the door. Maybe if I had been aware of who they were from the get-go and never expected anything else, I could have come to accept them for who they were.

Nowadays, of course, I am mostly reminded of this saying when I (unwillingly) end up watching CNN’s coverage of Trump. Given all the oinking he did before and during the election, folks really should’ve known that they were voting into office the foulest resident of the barnyard.

Do the next right thing. ~Recovery program saying

Oh…this one is so hard. We’re presented with hundreds of easy choices every single day of our lives, and it’s unbelievably easy to choose wrong, to act in thoughtlessness or spite or out-and-out meanness. What we should do is stand still and keep our mouths shut until we know which way is right. But–speaking solely for myself–it’s not always so easy to stop the response before it escapes. Almost invariably, there’s nothing I would like more than to be able to reel it back.

A month or so ago, a frequent commenter advised that–in these undeniably trying times–we should all attempt to listen with kindness to the feelings and ideas being expressed by our fellow man. I thought immediately of this saying, which–again–has been reiterated time and again by my sweet mama. It seems to me that acting with an eye toward kindness must always be the right thing, whether it’s kindness towards others or ourselves.

In order to be a doormat, you have lay down.

In my life, I have accepted the unacceptable. I’ve been lied to about things that are fundamental to who I am and what I want. I have been disregarded, disrespected, and ignored by people whose very function in my life was to regard and respect me above everyone else in theirs. And yet…somehow it always takes me two hundred years to realize what’s happening. Do I think that love has to be painful? Do I believe that I don’t deserve happiness? Do I believe that I am not enough on my own?

Thankfully, since I got married to my wonderful husband, I no longer have to contend with those questions on a daily basis, but sometimes I still catch myself wondering, particularly on days when I end up inadvertently examining the stretch of road in the rear-view. Why did I spend years of my life laying down when I could’ve been up dodging and punching, kicking some serious hillbilly ass? I really don’t know. But I can tell you without question that I regret the swings I never took. I could’ve made those sonsofbitches cry. And most certainly, I would’ve felt better about that than I did about their repeated victimization of me.

Don’t try to feed me, cause I’ve been here before and I deserve a little more. ~Adam Duritz, The Counting Crows

There’s a live version of Rain King from VH1 Storytellers that has accompanied every major life change I’ve experienced in the last ten years. It fits well with the aftermath, wherein I’ve just hopped up from the floor (all bruised from being walked on) and realized that there are most certainly better things ahead. I sing it at the top of my lungs as I drive down the road, and boy oh boy but I belt the line above. You can only feed me a bunch of shit for so long, folks. One day I’m bound to catch on and remember that I don’t like the taste.
Take a listen and tell me: doesn’t it make you feel powerful and hopeful and way too freakin’ smart to fall for a bunch of bull?


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