A crisis recently forced me to find a secure memory care facility for my parents at a moment’s notice. My brothers and sister have already had their turns helping, so it fell upon me to help my parents make the transition into their new home and to deal with their belongings. Even though my parents are where they need to be, they see me as the person who stole their freedom. They blame me; at times, they hate me. Dementia can be cruel to all concerned.
Although difficult, 2013 has been a year of learning. Many of those lessons came from my parents, others from my siblings, children, friends, and acquaintances. I would like to share some of my lessons with you.
On being unique
In America, we like to believe we are unique – and we are. Every person on this planet is the result of a unique combination of genes, experiences, and choices that creates an individual like no one else in this age or any other.
While we may celebrate our differences, humans are more alike than not. We all have the same basic biological and emotional needs. We may deal differently with deprivation and abundance, but we all need food, clothing, shelter, and security.
Each of us experiences emotions in different ways, to different degrees, and for different reasons. Still, we all experience the same feelings – love, hate, loneliness, guilt, regret, fear, anger, and joy.
We all have 24 hours in a day, though we may use them very differently. We may differ in talents, gifts, abilities, education, and financial resources, but each of us is able to make a positive contribution to the lives of others. We may allow geography, ethnicity, or ideology to divide us, but we are all very much the same.
I like different. I’m one of those people who thinks mainstream is often undesirable. But different is not inherently good or bad. Sometimes it’s just … different.
Remember that being unique does not excuse you from the laws of polite society. Being different is not a worthy goal if it means you are uniquely deceitful, rude, careless, cowardly, narcissistic, or unkind.
Meaningful differences have nothing to do with personal tastes, habits, affectations, or adornments. Cultivate differences that matter, like being extraordinarily considerate, outrageously loving, unusually honest, singularly patient, outstandingly trustworthy, breathtakingly imaginative, astonishingly creative, or magnificently generous. If you long for an uncommon life, be uncommonly kind.
On friends and family . .
- Friends bring sweetness to bitter times and laughter to tears.
- The most unlikely people sometimes make the best friends. Keep an open heart.
- Many people say they would give a kidney to a friend or loved one. Few will have the opportunity. Fewer still will have the opportunity and follow through, and just brushing up against their lives fills me with awe.
- Even the most fiercely independent of us may one day be partially or completely dependent on others. Be nice to the people in your life, for they may be your future caretakers.
- Few things are as precious as a sister who lets you cry on her shoulder and gives you good advice. Few things bring a smile to your face like a brother who understands you well enough to send ammo when you need a little range therapy. You may not always get along with your sisters or brothers, but try. They are the only ones who will truly understand when your parents drive you crazy.
- Cherish your children and be kind to them. One day, they may choose your nursing home.
- Sometimes those we love leave us. Sometimes it is of their choosing; sometimes they are taken from us by accident, depression, illness, or the progression of time. When they are gone, they leave behind an imprint on our hearts and an empty space in our lives. One day, you, too, will leave those you love. Live your life so that when you are gone, you leave an impression of lasting beauty, not a scar. Leave behind good memories to fill the empty spaces.
Other lessons …
- Shinier isn’t always better. Know the value of what you have before you trade it for something glitzier.
- The US Constitution, when followed faithfully and consistently, is still the document best able to preserve our freedom.
- If you don’t like drama, don’t create it.
- Stuff is just stuff. Use it. Enjoy it. Share it. Don’t let it own you. The time will come when someone will decide what to do with all your belongings, and if you never used them to create good times with others, your treasure may look like trash. One day, many of the things you acquire may end up on eBay, in a dumpster, or on Macklemore’s back. Consider that when deciding how to spend your time and resources.
- Say what you mean and mean what you say. Always.
- Lead-enhanced high-velocity paper punching is a great stress-reliever.
- Liberty is priceless. Cherish it while it is yours.
In 2013, I was reminded that life can be hard, but sometimes love triumphs, the good guys win, and there are happy endings.
In 2014, may our differences strengthen us and the things we have in common unite us as we make decisions that will affect our families, friends, and fellow Americans for generations to come. Wishing each of you a happy, healthy, peaceful, and prosperous new year that is unique in all the best ways.