Another birthday

Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul.” — Samuel Ullman

My birthday rolled around again this week. As I do annually during the first week of August, I take stock of everything that’s happened over the past year. I ask myself where I’ve fallen short or succeeded — but mostly consider what I’ve learned along the way.

Smack in the middle of my fifties now, I’ve finally accepted my imperfections and my weird streak. It’s been a struggle, but I’m also at peace with the idea that not everyone on Earth is going to like me or my ideas.  A woman whose political views I admire once pointed out that if everyone adores you, it’s likely that you don’t have a spine — or any opinions worth defending. I’d rather keep my spine and my opinions.

That said, I don’t ever want to stop growing, changing, and attempting to improve. With that in mind, here are a few things I want to keep working on in the coming year….

Curiosity. One of my favorite quotes from Ray Bradbury goes like this: “Life is trying things to see if they work.” Enthusiasm and curiosity demand a lot of energy — but they keep everyone young in spirit. I’m finding that it helps to hang around with creative people who take risks, seize their passions, try new things, and encourage others to do the same.

Patience. Growing up in the age of instant gratification, I have to keep reminding myself that waiting isn’t such a bad thing. Sometimes I need to chill. Anything worth its salt — including well-written articles, durable relationships, and a great marriage — takes a fair amount of time. And patience. The older I get, the more I appreciate the things I’ve earned through sheer perseverance. But I still need to learn to wait patiently for answers, and to keep the lid sealed on the slow cooker.

Being silly. When I’m at my lowest, it’s usually because I’ve started taking myself way too seriously. And I never cared much for humorless people who take themselves too seriously. I was lucky enough to be raised by a boatload of whimsical Scots who believed that acting silly — really silly — keeps you sane when nothing else makes sense. Now that I’m almost grown up, I know they were spot on.

Listening skills. I’m a talker and a teacher by nature. But as I mature, I hope to become a more accomplished listener and thoughtful conversationalist. My biggest pet peeve is other people who deliver self-absorbed monologues in social situations. I wish I had a dollar for every hour I’ve had to spend with tiresome folks who ramble on and on about their their own stuff — and never ask a single question about my stuff. My new rule of conversation: I must never leave a party, family gathering, lunch date, or interview without knowing at least three new things about the people with whom I’ve spent a few hours. No matter how well I think I know them.

Reality checks. One of my favorite scenes in The Wizard of Oz is when Toto pulls back the curtain and reveals the goofy old guy pretending to be Oz. I’m grateful for every opportunity that serves to zap false illusions and expose the naked emperor. As I age, I hope to have more of these opportunities. This year, I’ve been booked to work as an extra in several feature films and TV episodes. I’ve learned a lot about filmmaking — and human nature. I’ve learned, for instance, that Hollywood is synonymous with hard work, long hours, and sleep deprivation. I’ve met some of the nicest people behind the scenes, and also discovered that real movie stars aren’t quite as glamorous up close as they appear on film. Of course, I knew that all along, but wanted proof. Movie stars are (mostly) regular folks with a knack for high drama. I prefer to be a regular person without the high drama, and I’m ever so grateful I came to that conclusion in my own backyard.

Authenticity. I believe this is the highest quality anyone can aspire to.  As surely as I continue to seek it out in other people and experiences, I must continue to nurture sincerity in myself, in everything I do.

Reading the fine print. I hope to live a healthy life, well into old age, and to die clutching a book in one hand and a real newspaper in the other. I appreciate the Internet and all its wonders, but there isn’t a blog or site in cyberspace that can top or replace the scent of fresh ink on paper, or the discovery of a wonderful novel at my favorite bookstore. This year I must, and will, continue to support the printed word by purchasing newspapers and books and magazines. The employment of many of my dearest (and most respected) friends depends on the endurance and triumph of the printed word. I believe that civilization itself depends on it too.

Appreciation. This has been a year of loss and worry, laced with many reminders to cherish and appreciate the people I love. My father-in-law died in June, and my mother’s health is in question. Meanwhile, a very dear friend is recovering from cancer surgery. Appreciation is the incomparable thrill I get each time I walk through my side door and am reminded of my day-to-day blessings. It’s the sense of comfort that washes over me when I hear my husband breathing next to me, or my son’s voice on the phone. Or when I flip through my address book and glance at the names of the good people I could easily call on for help any time of the day or night. I appreciate every single day and every friend I’m given, and I need to send a thank-you note to the Universe. I really do. — Cindy La Ferle

— Photo: “Crazy Science” by Doug La Ferle —

18 thoughts on “Another birthday

  1. Dear Cindy, A woman who is as self-aware as this list indicates is right where she belongs. Your modesty about what you already know and your humility about what you already give to everyone who knows you speaks to your authenticity, ability to listen, and appreciation you have for others. I am honored to call you my friend. Happy Birthday, and may you be happy.

  2. Cindy, This piece captured me – honest, humble, insightful and real. A sincere introspection that is precious, but rare in today’s culture. Happy Birthday to you, my dear friend.
    Kathy S

  3. Thank you, everyone. I am so touched by your sweet comments and good wishes. I’ve had a wonderful birthday week, starting early on the weekend. We spent a beautiful weekend in St. Joe, where I had a nice dinner on Sunday night at one of my favorite restaurants overlooking Lake Michigan. Watched the sun go down on the water.

    Today, on my birthday, I read so many heart-warming messages that I floated through my day. Went out to dinner tonight with our family, both moms included, and returned home to a phone call from Nate. I feel very lucky, very blessed. The journey is even better with loved ones, dear friends, and good company — thank you!

  4. Hi Cindy, Happy Birthday!!! Hope you had a wonderful celebration.

    I am so with you on the PRINTED word. I truly think so much will be lost without it.

    Your annual “check-up” is a wonderful idea. After reading this, I’m pretty sure you’re well on your way to a great year.

    Cheers, jj

  5. Cindy, I’m glad to see you had a wonderful birthday celebration filled with some of your favorite things. I resonated most with appreciation – I tend to get so caught up in what I’m doing that I forget to take a look around and acknowledge how truly blessed I am. Thanks for sharing!

  6. Lovely reflections and what a great idea to do this every year to note how you have changed or embraced…I’m with you that authenticity is key! If I am not truly me, who will I be?

    Have a glorious year, Cindy!

  7. Cindy,
    Happy belated birthday! I like your idea of taking stock at birthday time — it seems to me even more appropriate than the end-of-the-calendar-year resolutions.

    I liked ALL of your items, but especially the one about being silly! That’s one of the things I loved about my Dad — he wasn’t afraid to be silly at times! (And I think it’s very appropriate that the root of the word “silly” means “to be blessed”!).

  8. Cindy- You are one of my favorite online friends, I probably don’t express that well most of the time and should make more comments but it is tiring saying how much I love your posts over and over!!! 🙂
    A wonderful birthday was well deserved and I wish you many more. I wish getting more parent was part of my aging experience….

  9. Happy Birthday, Cindy! What wonderful “growth chart.” Reminded me of the self-reflection that rolls around every year, part and parcel of Yom Kippur. Many many happy years ahead of you and each one filled with the smell of ink on paper and books galore. xoxoxoxoxo’s

  10. Cindy,
    You outdid yourself with this post – so thoughtful, insightful and inspiring.

    If God spares my life to see my 55th birthday next month I want to think of my own life in similar terms because they resonate with me and stir memories of life experiences, lessons and blessing.

    Again, Happy Birthday.

  11. Happy belated birthday, sorry I missed it:(

    I fully agree with your list. Authenticity is one that I am happy to work on.
    I think one of the nicest things about being our age is the freedom to be ourselves, wrinkle, scars, gray hair and all.

    Love the picture, and you do such a great job!

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