Sixty Things I’ve Learned in 60 Years, Part 2

So, maybe these aren’t all things I’ve learned.  Maybe they’re just opinions.  I can live with the contradiction.  So, I continue:

31) Any time you utter the words, “I know exactly how you’re feeling,” you’re entering dangerous territory.  You probably don’t know how the other person is feeling, in which case saying, “I can’t imagine what you’re feeling right now” is far better and much less presumptuous.

32) You know the phrase, “Love the one you’re with”?  I’ve always thought it applies both to marriage and to rearing children.

33) Women seem to apologize more frequently than men.  For the most part, I think that’s a sign of strength, not weakness.

34) I know that everything’s supposed to be better in New York.  But the truth is, I’ve seen as many bad facelifts on the Upper East Side as I ever saw in Dallas.

35) Luck is more important than we want to think it is.  I’ve been very lucky with my husband (still the most fascinating person I’ve ever met), my children (both smart and funny, with good hearts) and my friends.  I can’t think of any areas better to be lucky in.

36) Overalls are always a bad idea once you’ve hit your 10th birthday.

37) Two friends, Melissa and Paula, told me I should start a blog.  I thought they were crazy, since I didn’t have much to say.  As it turns out, they were right and I’ve had much more to say than I ever thought I would.

38) It’s odd turning 60 after being diagnosed with Stage IIb cancer when I was 45.  At the time, I thought I’d never make it out of my forties.  These past 15 years have been like a gift — full of travel, work I’ve enjoyed, our kids growing up.

39)  Having said that, Larry David, I’m still a little weepy about the prospect of 60, which I’m trying to approach with a modicum of dignity and an absence of uncontrollable sobbing in fetal position.  It’s just as I suspected: You can have cancer and still retain a shallow side.

40) I find myself thinking about my mother this week.  Sixty years ago, she was in labor three days before delivering me.  Shortly after my birth, she was institutionalized for two weeks because of a crippling postpartum depression.  I can’t imagine how alone she must have felt.

41) A wonderful friend, Bob Solomon, who died a few years ago, wrote many important books and left behind a quote I particularly treasure: “Gratitude, I want to suggest, is not only the best answer to the tragedies of life. It is the best approach to life itself.”  I try to remind myself of this as often as possible; it’s how I want to live.

42) I’ve now lost so many good and wonderful friends to cancer who never made it past middle age.  I try to remember to live as well and age as well as possible for all of us.

43) After a disaster, if the best thing you can think of to say is, “Well, they say everything happens for a reason,” then you should consider saying nothing at all.

44) Ditto “Your attitude is everything.”  I may well gouge out the eyes of the next person who says that to me.

45) I don’t live in fear of getting run over by a bus in New York; that would be tragic.  I do live in fear of getting creamed by one of those delivery bicyclists; that would be ignominious.

46) At certain times in life, I’ve faced a crossroads: Do I take the high road — or do I act like a bitch?  I usually do the latter.

47) Here’s an example of this dilemma:  I once worked for a man who was incredibly arrogant and not particularly nice to the people who worked for him.  He told me he didn’t like Tennessee Williams because he hadn’t enjoyed Williams’ play, Butterfield 8What to do? Nod silently?  Or say in a loud voice: “Well, it certainly seems unfair to me to blame Tennessee Williams for something John O’Hara wrote.”  You can imagine which choice I made.  Hell, I figured, it was worth losing my job for that kind of opportunity.

48) I try to be a tolerant person.  When someone tells me that creationism — or its latest nom de guerre — should be taught in public schools, though, and the “controversy” discussed, I rapidly become intolerant.  Why don’t we also teach the math controversy of how 2 plus 2 may, in fact, be 5?

49) I think that Texans and New Yorkers are really very similar.  Both are equal parts arrogant and insecure, and both truly believe they live in the center of the universe.  They are also — let’s face it — kind of unpopular outside their own states.

50) I’m very pleased to notice that the term “self-esteem” is not nearly as prevalent as it used to be.  This makes me quite happy, since I’d always thought that the least deserving people had the highest self-esteem.

51) Humor has a way of backfiring.  My husband and I used to show off our recycling closet, with height measurements for our family.  “This is where we record how much the kids grow and how much we shrink,” we would say.  HA, HA, HA

That was before he and I started shrinking.  In the past, no matter what happened, I would always tell myself, “Well, at least I’m smart and I’m 5’7”.   After this year’s doctor visit, I realize I am now only 5’6-1/2″ — and believe me, I was straining for every millimeter.  Also, what happens when I’m no longer smart?  I think I need a new fallback position.

52) In the olden days, people used to call each other by honorifics and their last names when they first met.  Getting to the point of exchanging given names was a mark of friendship and equality (similar to using the familiar second person in French or German).  Today, it’s almost exactly the opposite.  At parties and other events, it seems you’re supposed to introduce yourself only by your first name.  Even to, say, toddlers and other sticky-fingered short people.  I don’t like this.  Too much instant familiarity and informality.  I used to tell my kids I didn’t want somebody in diapers calling me by my first name.  However, the closer my friends and I get to adult diapers, I realize I may have to rethink my stance.

53) Lately, saying “I’m so busy” seems to be a mark of how important and in demand you are.  I think busy-ness is highly overrated.

54) Half the things I hear from yoga teachers strike me as incredibly profound.  The other half is pure bullshit.

55) The year I spent as a secretary, between undergraduate and law school, was the most educational of my life.  It’s vital to learn how people treat you when you’re not important to them.

56) I think velcro and spandex are the two most significant inventions of the 20th century.

57) There are two kinds of drivers: Those who honk and those who don’t.  I’m a honker, which my non-honking husband thinks is rude.  I think people appreciate the feedback.

58) I was brought up as a Methodist and went to church and Sunday school every week growing up.  I seem to have missed the lessons on hatred, though.  I thought the point of Christianity was to be a good person who treated others well.  Like Rick in Casablanca, I may have been misinformed.

59) I am convinced that, no matter how long a marriage lasts, the two of you repeat the same two or three arguments throughout your years together.

60) Today, I am 60.  I’m not even crying!  I’m thinking my life has been incredibly rich and fascinating.  I want to never forget how fortunate I’ve been.  I haven’t gotten everything I wanted, but I’ve had everything important: family, friends, work.

(Copyright 2009 by Ruth Pennebaker, age 60.000)

Read one of my favorite posts on Amazing Grace and the new cellphone

25 comments… add one
  • Happy birthday! I think these are wonderful lessons (or opinions!)

  • Happy 60th Birthday, Ruth!
    I’m so glad I “met” you this year. You are inspiring, insightful, and you make me laugh!  So there!  Hope you have a wonderful birthday and wonderful Thanksgiving.

  • Cynthia

    What a finish!  I especially appreciate #35 and #43.  Thanks very much for sharing.  Oh, and HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

  • It must be so hard to have lost friends to cancer (or anything else) — #42 — I realize the older I get the more people I know who have died and, honestly, it makes me fearful. Then I see my husband’s grandma, who is 90, and think of how many friends she has lost…

  • Paula

    Related to #56:  Spanx 😉

  • Ruth,thanks so much for sharing. Your list made me smile, nod in agreement and appreciate having you in my life ~ loved the wisdom in those 60 items. Happy Birthday. I’m so glad you’re writing a blog~  with special thanks to  Melissa and Paula for suggesting it. Love from an insecure Texan and NYCity wannabe.

  • Winston

    I loved #47.  When faced with arrogance, I’d have to make the same choice as you did!
     
    HAPPY BIRTHDAY!
    I offer you this tip as a gift.
     
    In #51 you said:
    In the past, no matter what happened, I would always tell myself, Well, at least I’m smart and I’m 5′7.
     
    When you hit 70 you may prefer to say:
    Well, at least I’m incredulous and I’m 5′6.

  • Happy Birthday Ruth.
    I turn 40 next week – I’m trying to approach that with a modicum of dignity too but not very successfully so far.
    A wonderful list!
    Enjoy your time with your family.
    Best wishes.
     
     

  • Happy birthday, Ruth, from San Miguel. On #56, I would add ziploc bags.

  • Number 46 is my new favorite quote and is now featured on my Facebook profile, properly attributed, of course.  Hope you have a great birthday/Thanksgiving weekend!

  • Craig

    I could count the things I have learned on one hand, but it seems the ink has run 
    and I guess all I know is that you should have a great birthday.Y0u’ve earned it.

    Oh  yeah, I remembered one other thing I know. No matter how old you get, you will always be  older than me  

  • cousin Per

    Happy Birthday, Ruth! You lead the way! Keep on celebrating the whole weekend with your family and friends. Wish we could come over for let say Friday night…

  • Happy Birthday! You are so wise. This was incredibly interesting for me to read, especially as someone who just entered my forties last year and cannot imagine what it must feel like to lose people you know and love, and to keep on living beyond them. It was especially meaningful to me to read about your own experience with cancer and how your life since then has been such a gift. Thank you for helping me to appreciate what I have.
     

  • Cindy A

    Happy birthday, Ruth.  Just remember what Bette Davis said: ” Aging is not for wimps.”  I think you’re gonna be OK.

  • #47 has been the bane of my life!
    Happy birthday, Ruth. In his 87th year, Michelangelo wrote “Ancora imparo” (I am still learning.) Long may you continue adding to life’s lessons.

  • Happy birthday – and have a wonderful year. I hope you add #61 to the list next year 🙂

  • Happy Birthday, Ruth! You’re so right about women apologizing more, a nd I like your spin on it being a sign of strength.

  • Mei

    Happy Birthday Ruth! Thank you for the lessons thus far. Love them. 🙂

  • I think you’ve got it all covered–humorously!

  • #31 is so true. The older I get, the more I realize that I don’t know how anyone is feeling. Whatever I think someone is feeling is just a projection  of myself onto that person.

  • Roy D

    So… you don’t like Sarah Palin?

  • #59 is very true. Any advice for getting out of that rut? 🙂

  • Paul

    Happy Birthday Ruth!  It only gets better, I hear!

  • Happy Birthday, Ruth!  I hope it was a great one.  Number 46 really resonates with me.  And number 47 cracked me up.  At first, I thought we may have had the same boss.  But mine was too stupid to even know the name Tennessee Williams.  I’m very thankful that you’re here.

  • Well, hey, happy birthday, a wee bit late.

    Even a  shrunk 5’7″ is tall in my book.  And I honk too.  though I always suspected  it was because I was short.

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