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The Years They Pass Like Summer Dew Upon the Grass

By Angela Hallstrom

I recently finished a really lovely book–Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout. It’s a novel-in-stories—and yes, I’m partial to novels-in-stories—and as I was reading I kept finding myself thinking, “Daaaaaang, I wish I could write like Elizabeth Strout.”

But this post isn’t about my own author jealousy, or Elizabeth Strout’s prodigious talents, or even the merits of Olive Kitteridge. (Although you should read it—but there is some language, and it’s kinda sad in a weirdly hopeful way, and some of you might be bugged by the fact that it’s not a traditional novel and has all those annoying short stories in it—but if you’re okay with all of that, read it! And if you’re not okay with it, you don’t have to read it . . . and that’s okay, too.)

No, this post is about a killer passage from the end of the novel, and how it got me thinking. Here it is:

What young people didn’t know, she thought, lying down beside this man, his hand on her shoulder, her arm; oh, what young people did not know. They did not know that lumpy, aged, and wrinkled bodies were as needy as their own young, firm ones, that love was not to be tossed away carelessly, as if it were a tart on a platter with others that got passed around again. No, if love was available, one chose it, or didn’t choose it. And if her platter had been full with the goodness of [her husband] and she had found it burdensome, had flicked it off crumbs at a time, it was because she had not known what one should know: that day after day was unconsciously squandered.

“What young people did not know.” Although many would still consider me a “young” person, I’m heading toward 40—old enough to have lived a little, learned some things, but still young enough to be naive and untried and foolish, forgetting to remember the things I thought I’d already learned.

For example: I think I’ve learned how important it is to enjoy the moments in my life. To find joy in the journey. I believe President Monson when he says:

This is our one and only chance at mortal life—here and now. The longer we live, the greater is our realization that it is brief. Opportunities come, and then they are gone. I believe that among the greatest lessons we are to learn in this short sojourn upon the earth are lessons that help us distinguish between what is important and what is not. I plead with you not to let those most important things pass you by as you plan for that illusive and non-existent future when you will have time to do all that you want to do. Instead, find joy in the journey—now.

So I resolve to slow down and live in the moment, to enjoy my children, to learn all I can. To be curious and centered and calm. But then life happens and I forget the lesson all over again. Here’s another lovely quote, one that reminds me of the gap between what I am and what I’d like to be, this time from poet Mary Oliver, excerpted from her poem “When I Am Among the Trees“:

I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.

Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.

And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.”

(Isn’t that poem just delicious, by the way? Mary Oliver. Another excellent reading suggestion.)

I suppose I’ve just been thinking about all the advice I’ve received . . . and wish I’d received. Counsel I’ve been given but can’t always take. Things that I wish I could go back in time and tell my young self before it’s too late (“Be grateful for your youthful body!” “Don’t be so afraid–you’re capable of more than you think.” “Never, under any circumstances, go out with K____.”) Words of wisdom that the enlightened ones in my life (see above) have given, that I should be reminded of, and ought to heed.

It helps me, at least, to write them all down. So that’s what I’m doing here publicly, with you.

And now I want to hear from you. No matter your age: What pieces of advice would you give to your young self? What kinds of counsel have the wise ones in your life given to you that you know you must remember?

Write them down and we’ll all learn together.

(And extra credit to the first person who guesses where the title of this post comes from . . .)

(And speaking of extra credit. I’m teaching Intro to Creative Writing at the BYU SL Center Spring term, Tues/Thurs, 7:30-10:00 p.m. It’s a compressed 7 week schedule, but begins on April 28, which is coming up quick. Right now the class is pretty small, so if you want to come join us, do! It’s a heckofa good time. You don’t need to be a matriculated BYU student to attend. And there’s that piece of advice you keep giving yourself that sounds a lot like, “You know, you really ought to take a class . . . ” :-).

About Angela Hallstrom

(Advisory Board) grew up in Utah, then moved to Minnesota, then came back to Utah, then packed up her husband and four kids and moved to Minnesota--again!-- in the summer of 2010. Although she loves the Land of 10,000 Lakes, she dearly misses Slurpees, Sunday dinners at her Mom's house, and eating a whole entire Cafe Rio pork salad while lunching with her Utah-based Segullah sisters. And yes, she finds it telling that everything she misses about her hometown is somehow related to food. She has an BA in English from BYU, an MFA in creative writing from Hamline University, and has taught writing to high school and college students.

29 thoughts on “The Years They Pass Like Summer Dew Upon the Grass”

  1. I wish I could remember to worry less and really find joy in the journey. I can't remember where I remember this quote from, but I like it: "Worry less about what others think of you, because you'd be surprised to know how little they do."

    I think sometimes I wrap myself up so much in the busy-ness of everyday life, that I forget to smell the roses. I am constantly trying to remind myself to slow down. Breathe. Whenever I'm around my 94 year old Grandma life just seems to go slower. And I like it. I feel content to just sit. I need to remember that feeling in my everyday life.

    I love that particular President Monson quote. Thanks for reminding me of it.

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  2. Advice to my younger self? Know that God, your Father in Heaven loves you, even if you don't love yourself. And He has a hand in your life.

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  3. EMILY DICKINSON!?!

    The things I keep turning back to in my life are not the "go getter things I found in the business world like goal setting etc but words that were hardly noticed – but now are a part of each day.

    Do what is in front of you. Opportunities are missed, when all you can see are self made goals. God meets you in the now!

    Get over yourself! (from my mother, of course)

    Pray instead of think.

    Slap a smile on your face and just do it!

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  4. "The years they pass like summer dew upon the grass,
    The little boy who held our hand grew up so fast."
    …Saturday's Warrior. What a classic.

    The advice would I give myself at every age and stage: Be happy with who you are right now. Your body is fine. Your clothes look great. People like you. You are talented. You are beautiful. Stop longing for and regretting the past, stop dreading and fearing the future. Enjoy this stage in your life: it is a happy one.

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  5. she-bop, I love that quote. It's very true. I also find that I'm really bad at gaging how other people perceive me. It's all wasted energy.

    I've been thinking about this A LOT! I'm almost 27-I know I'm young. But I've been thinking about all the things that have happened in the last 10 years that contribute to who I am today. I joined the church, traveled the world, graduated from college, got married, had two children–to name the major events. Point being…I'm no where near the insecure/confused/wayward 16 year old I was.

    If I could go back and talk to her (the scared/lonely 16 year old), I would tell her how beautiful and important and loved she is. I would tell her to stop being so insecure because she is amazing! I would tell her to listen harder to the missionaries, and that Bradley chooses her (it's a sweet/revenge-of-the nerd love story:). I would tell her to stop worrying and live–to take it all in. And I would tell her to write in her journal more.

    I've been thinking of this because someone just gave me a letter I wrote to them 10 years ago. It was strange. If I hadn't recognized my handwriting I wouldn't have believed that it was from me. I can't even recall experiencing a single sentiment I expressed in that letter. I'm a downright different person.

    So it has me thinking…who will I be in 10 years? What will I wish I could go back and tell myself at 26 (now)? I really want to know!
    But then I know why I can't. Because the experiences of the next 10 years will give me the wisdom I long to hear now. I guess that's okay.

    What would you ladies tell your 26 year old (with 2 young children & a husband just graduating school) selves?

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  6. Stuff I tell people, and things I wish I had known:

    *Stop wishing away your time. Enjoy it. Because it will be gone and you won't ever get it back. Even when you are sick and tired of older people telling you this –it's true! Treat your time as if you don't have much left…

    *Don't burn bridges. I guarantee you WILL meet people again in the future and you will either be mortified you had treated them ill or grateful you had been kind. ALWAYS choose Kindness!

    *The most important things in your life will be God and family and friends. Not money, not houses, not fame, not popularity, not degrees, not clothes, not vacations (although vacations rock the world). If you can put God and family first, and then serve your friends, you will be quite happy!

    *The only difference between your pain now and your pain later will be that later you will understand why you had pain now, and the pain you experience later will actually be harder. Because Heavenly Father prepares us little by little for the harder things. You will think your life is completely over when your boyfriend dumps you at the Sadie Hawkins Dance your senior year. However, it is merely a stepping stone that gave you the chance to pour your heart out to God and realize that He loves you. Later on, you will see that it solidified your Faith –and because of it, you will get through the job losses, the Miscarriage, the Depression, the financial crisis, and anything else that will come your way. So, take that pain and give it to Him –build your faith now. You're gonna need it!!

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  7. See? I knew if I asked you guys you'd tell me some things I need to hear. All of this is just beautiful.

    And you're right, Lindsay–the quote's from the Saturday's Warrior classic, "Didn't We Love Him?" (Jimmy, oh Jimmy!). Extra credit for you!

    I echo she-bop on the how little people actually think about you thing. And, to add to it, if they actually *are* thinking about you (negatively) do your best to let it go. Negativity loses power when you refuse to feed it.

    Which reminds me of a life changing understanding I learned in my early 20s: Refusing to engage people who have wronged you doesn't mean you're weak. I had this sense that if somebody did something "offensive" then it was my duty to be "offended"–that if I wasn't, that meant I was a doormat. It was a revelation when I learned it wasn't my duty to be offended, or to spend lots of energy trying to justify myself and prove my righteousness, and that there's amazing power in letting go.

    Al, I want to hear your revenge-of-the-nerd love story! Would it have made a good John Hughes movie?? As far as what I would have told my 26 year old self: 1. Relax!!!! and 2. Make a conscious effort to spend time, alone, with your husband. It's hard when your kids are little, but so necessary, and worth it.

    Cheryl, your comment is full of so much wisdom. I agree wholeheartedly with not burning bridges and choosing kindness. And even though your last piece of advice might be hard for a 17 year old to hear, it's so true!

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  8. for me it comes down to time-

    Use it bring you joy. Spend on that which you value the most, unapologetically on family. Use those seasons of life when you can to develop knowledge, interests, and talents. Saturate yourself in it because it will benefit you in and the subsequent seasons.

    Don't fear rejection or critique~

    I always want to tell my college self to have enjoyed the free time more and done more with it.(I feel squandered too much I could have accomplished so much more). Or when I was first married, I spent my evenings so carefree, now I actually haula rt supplies ot the church for the 60min my son is at cub scouts just to guarntee myslef 45-60 min of painting time-cause that's all there is!

    beautiful post angela- It inspired me to spend the morning taking my boys on a walk and rolling around in my baby son's new bed with him and my three year old making up stories and being silly– instead of cleaning my house.

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  9. Lovely post, Angela. Ten years ago I was your age; now I'm nearing 50 and I still can't believe it. What I wish I could tell my younger, almost-forty self? All of this is going to sound like a cliche, but it's all true. I had my last baby when I was 38. I wish I'd savored her babyhood more. Instead, I was so busy with my older kids' activities that I just sort of rushed through those years. I wish I'd slowed down more. I didn't need to be so involved in the PTA; I didn't need to spend so much time on cub scouts. I didn't need to have my kids involved in so many things. I also worried too much. I spent so much energy and time worrying in particular about my oldest son, who had social struggles. I worried that he'd never have friends, that he'd end up as a juvenile delinquent or worse. Now he's well-liked, a great student, and he's going to be the drum major next year. I should have trusted more in my mothering abilities and in my children's inherent capacities. In short, I would tell my younger self to relax, slow down, and savor, which is what just about everyone else has said on this post this morning.
    Now that my oldest child has left home for college, I am feeling all the more poignantly how quickly our children grow up. I wish I'd just savored those years more–they are so fleeting!
    Also, I would tell myself that it doesn't matter whether the cookies you serve at that big church function are store bought or meticulously hand made and decorated. No one really cares. Don't waste time on trivial things that in the end, don't matter.

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  10. For Angela–

    It was 9th grade. I was the nerd (I'll spare you the overweight, freckled details) and he was a handsome clean cut guy that everybody liked. There was just "something" different about him. I wasn't a member of the church (never heard of it) but I couldn't help notice how his jokes were clean and he was always nice to everyone–even me! Ah, love at first sight. We became friends (he was friends with everybody) and I cherished our acquaintanceship. I moved to another town and we almost lost touch but I called him when I was getting baptized (kudos to a member missionary at the new high school) because I thought I remembered he was "churchy" (it happened to be the same church–whoohoo!). He came to my baptism and we stayed in touch throughout high school–just as friends because he always had a girlfriend.
    So by the time he left on his mission I had a strategy. I figured everyone else who wrote him would fizzle out by the one year mark, so I would continue to write him every week. I did. They fizzled–even the girlfriend. And we became best friends. I traveled more than he did on his mission and our constant communication at such a formative time in both our lives bonded us together. Best friends. There wasn't much left to decide on when he got home besides the date. And it was 3 months to the day when he got home that we were married.

    Now if this were an Austen tale then that would be the end but it's not. 🙂
    While marriage is no walk-in-the-park, we are both committed to working hard and enjoying the ride.

    p.s. I love seeing their faces when people from our old school find out we're married. I've never seen anyone try to "not act surprised" so hard. 🙂

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  11. I loved Olive Kitteridge, and had tears in my eyes as I read that quote. I'm so glad that Olive finally got it. But I cast lots of judgments about Olive from the comfort of my reading chair and still be blind about my own life. I remember being a teenager and lamenting that I wasn't as skinny as I wanted to be. My mom and her best friend laughed at me and said, "Just wait twenty years and you'll be wanting that body back." When I got married I hated looking at the pictures– my expression was weird in this one, my chest looked too big in that one, my stomach stuck out in that one, etc… and now I look at all of them, a dozen years later, and think my DH and I looked so beautiful and so happy.

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  12. I would absolutely tell myself to have more fun while being single, and to stop fretting about it. I really thought that being married was the be all and end all! Silly girl. I would also say that I looked o.k. most of the time. That it was not necessary to look amazing, o.k. was good enough. I had a fab figure and didn't appreciate it because I was so worried about my face. Just try to be happy with the now.

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  13. When someone asks "How are you?" Think about how you really are (in the big picture), and answer positively! We all have so much to be thankful for; don't focus on what brings us down. Focus on the ups. And think about how much nicer it is to hear "I'm great!" rather than the alternative.

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  14. Lovely post, Angela! And I love the good advice that's been given. Cheryl! You're SO young– how did you get to be so wise?

    And Al– oh to be 26 again!– I wished away my 20s and 30s because I wanted to get older so people will take me seriously. Truth is, that ain't never gonna happen. 😉

    When that trend went around went last year of writing letters to your younger self I simply couldn't do it. I have too many regrets that I haven't come to peace with. But I have a feeling my older self would tell me to drop those regrets and enjoy the life I have.

    I echo the advice to young mothers to do less– to be less hurried. But I would also advise choosing one or two things to concentrate your creative efforts on. Don't feel like you need to be good at everything. Just find a few things you enjoy. Oh, and kiss those babies and let the house get messy. Truly. Your life is too short to spend it all on cleaning.

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  15. I would tell my young self not to look forward so impatiently to the days when my children would finally be older, when I wouldn't have to do so much physical labor and care-taking. I couldn't realize then that the years before high school, college, and adulthood would rest in my memory as the secure, happy years where I was able to keep them close to me and savor our togetherness as a family unit. Now that they are grown and gone, I realize what a wonderful time that was.

    The best advice a wise woman ever gave me was to decide that I would love my children's spouses…just love them, no matter what. Period. I needed to embrace them as part of the family so they would want to see and spend time in our home. I have followed this advice, and every bit of love and approval I've given has come back to me. Thank you, Dee.

    =)

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  16. i'd tell myself of a dozen years ago that the decade+ of spiritual floundering, questioning, and doubting would ultimately end, along with the attendant anguish it brought on…and would be replaced with peace, faith and insight into things i never knew i never knew (but thought i DID know). and that president hinckley's book of mormon challenge would be the key to developing genuine faith (not just acceptance or belief or hope that the gospel is true), which has a power associated with it that amazingly trumps knowledge.

    i'd realize and accept that changes are a part of life. that the things you don't ever expect to happen and seriously wish wouldn't just might, but to follow the counsel of Elder Worthlin and adopt a "come what may and love it" attitude. (i'm still working on trying to do that).

    in another dozen years i hope that i'll be able to tell the me of now that my secret fear of being abandoned some day was unfounded. that being true to my covenants was the right choice, that worry about the future is futile. that being of good cheer was worth the effort.

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    Angela, do you know how much the class costs? Is it possible to audit? It's been 16 years since i was in school, and i don't know if i could hack it. plus i'm out of town a few nights a month for work so i'm not sure it's possible. but it'd be fun to be part of. I've always enjoyed your posts, and loved your book. ♥

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  17. Watching my daughter, I had the realization that she is her own worst enemy – worrying over things that will be fine, reliving mistakes, not sharing her burdens with those that love her, and trying to prove her worth to others. As I worried that these things would afflict her for the rest of her life I realized that these are my afflictions as well. I wouldn't necessarily say that she learned these things from me necessarily, but we have similar personalities. So what I want to say to her (that her sweet 8 year old brain would not understand) I want to say to my younger self – don't fight with yourself; Life is hard enough, don't make it harder.

    While we're on the topic I'd like to tell my future self something too. Right now my kids range in age 2-14, they are like my little chicks safely in the nest, for now. In later years if my children go astray, if my life falls apart, if I get diabetes- just know that I did the best I could every moment I could. No regrets. (Add to that what Sue said about loving my children's spouses no matter what – that is great!)

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  18. Do more

    Don't let fear stop me

    Stop wasting time

    play with the kids more when they actually want to play with you.

    There are just too many to continue. I've made so many mistakes, I just wish I knew what mistakes I'm making now.

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  19. So much good advice. Al, I loved your love story. And Shelah, I was judging Olive too–but she was still so darn lovable (and I don't mean in a cuddly way) with all her flaws. Kay, "It is not necessary to look amazing." That's a big one. How much time can some of us spend worrying over the way we look when gorgeousness is pretty low on the totem pole of what's really important?

    Jenny, I like you're idea about answering "how are you" in a positive way. And I also like the idea of answering "how are you" honestly, too. Michelle, I love the idea of focusing a few things you enjoy–it's allowed me to feel no guilt whatsoever about my lack of desire to be a runner, which my DH and lots of people in my neighborhood and family are invested in. (I'll be at the SLC marathon this Sat, cheering on the sidelines.)

    Sue, I'm going to have to keep that "love your child's spouse" mantra locked in the back of my brain for future use. I'm sure it will come in handy! And Blue, your response was lovely. Wouldn't life be so much easier if we could just zoom into the future for a quick check up, then get on with the present without all the attendant anxiety?? And speaking of going back in time, Mormonhermitmom, I'd like to press the reset button to 1999 and resolve then to be more financially prudent.

    Jendoop, I've had the same thoughts exactly about my daughter (as well as the "hmmm. . . wonder where she gets it from?). And Justine, I thought the same thing about my current mistakes. It'll be interesting to be 47 and go, "Ooohhh, THAT was the big elephant in the room I wasn't seeing ten years ago."

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  20. And Blue, about the creative writing class: I don't think they allow auditing, since the courses are open to the community (provided you have a high school diploma and an ecclesiastical endorsement). The cost is $209 a credit hour, so $627 for a 3 credit hour course. Even if you're not enrolled in college right now, BYU and most other universities will count the course as college credit if/when you go back. I know it's hard for busy women to swing taking a class like this (especially twice a week) . . . but taking creative writing classes has been one of my biggest pleasures in life. (I like teaching them too, of course. But if they'd pay me to be an eternal student? How many of us would sign up for that plan?) Of course, I'd love to have you in class.

    The truth is, some of my best students are women over the age of 25 or so. They're engaged, interested, excited. They participate, do their homework, work their butts off. I LOVE teaching adult women. And so many adult women think they can't hack it, then come to class and find out how awesome they really are. Actually, that's one piece of advice I'd give any woman considering going back to school: DO IT!!! Even if it's only one class a semester, or one class a YEAR. If it's something you really want to do (not just something you feel like you "ought to" do, a la Michelle's advice to only do those things that are most important to us), time spent in a classroom, even in a kinda boring classroom, has almost always been time well spent for me. And often, it's been transformative.

    Now, that's not to say that my class will be *transformative* necessarily . . . but it could be a lot of fun.

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  21. What I really want is a letter from my future self in ten years telling me everything will be ok. Because I'm pretty scared on a lot of fronts right now.
    I'm not sure what I'd tell my self 10 years ago. Mostly the same things I'm still telling myself right now. Be less controlling, more affectionate, less anxious, more grateful. I'd tell her the babies *will* come (but keep trying everything you can afford), because I always thought infertility would be far more bearable if I just knew how long it would last. I'd love to give her the perspective I have now, but I think that perspective is only possible through experiencing what I have. Also, I would not want to freak her out about the future. Some things are better not to know ahead of time.

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  22. I would tell myself the same thing I do now… Believe Christ. Trust him. Always remember "Be Still and Know that I am God." There are too many things you can't solve alone, but that can be accomplished with him.

    I would tell myself not to judge herself too harshly. She doesn't need to be perfect. But she can do great things with her best and sometimes even a really good effort.

    I would tell myself to love herself and those around her – even when she's driving. She'll feel better.

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  23. The advice I have is "TAKE ANGELA'S CLASS." I stumbled into her class at the beginning of winter semester. I have always wanted to take this class so I could enjoy my dear friends writing better, but 'I knew I could never write.' I had not even signed up when I walked in that first night. I sat down and Angela was like that best friend that comes over and you don't want them to leave–even though you should be doing the laundry or the dishes or something else responsible. I left class that night knowing I was going to change my entire schedule to make it happen. It was wonderful. I am so sad it is over.

    My friend once told me that you can tell what the next big thing you need to do in your life is because it is what you are most afraid of. For her, it was graduate school–for me it was this class. If you have that fear or desire to write better no one will teach you more gently then she.

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  24. I would tell my younger self to go and do the class/es that I wanted to do, and make other people make the (tiny) changes in order for me to actually attend and complete them.

    Read my patriarchial blessing more often, and journal far, FAR more often.

    That writing isn't selfish.

    To remember that whatever "this" is, this too shall pass.

    Take every opportunity to drive your foundation deeper into the gospel.

    Heavenly Father loves you more than you can understand right now.

    That even if you are lonely, you are not alone.

    Most of all, that I am far, far stronger than I think I am, and God is thankfully even stronger than me.

    **Just wanting to add if I had a private jet, I would enrol too. Here's hoping distance learning expands to your class!**

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