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 . . . ” :-).