Dozens of Tulips and 62 Life Lessons

My birthday was this week, and I hit the tulip jackpot. Brightly colored blooms fill my house, some closed, most emergent, and a few fully open. When I awoke this morning, I discovered some were stretching toward the sun while others drooped. I delight in the unique beauty of each stem. Their bright colors remind me that even though today is dark, Spring is coming. Tulips are a metaphor for life. They begin with just a hint of their potential, gradually unfold, burst into glorious bloom, seek the sun, droop in respite, and finally end. Hopefully, as we journey through the stages of life, someone glimpses our potential, nurtures us as we blossom, celebrates our glory, and remembers our beauty when we are gone. I am grateful to have hit the jackpot, not just with tulips but with friends and family who have taught me valuable lessons and been patient as I stumble through the stages of life.

A few years ago, I began making a list of lessons I have learned on the road to senility. I took a break for two years as I dealt with grief and grappled with tough questions. Gazing at my gorgeous tulips reminded me to re-read my previous reflections, and in doing so, I realized that I have some new lessons to add.

  1. Sometimes the light is shining on me, and other times I can barely see. (Hat tip to Robert Hunter who must have been influenced by the book of Job)
  2. Seeing my face on a high definition screen taught me the meaning of humility.
  3. I will never have enough bookshelves.
  4. A smile is beautiful & a real smile shines in the eyes.
  5. My mother said big smiles would give me wrinkles. I smiled, anyway. I have lots of wrinkles but no regrets about the smiles.
  6. If someone tells you that your laugh is too loud, they don’t appreciate you. Move on quickly.
  7. I don’t need more stuff.
  8. My kids will be grateful if I get rid of my stuff before I die.
  9. Look into the eyes of the homeless people you encounter. Better yet, strike up a conversation. We are all in this together.
  10. The best parents spend a lot of time observing their children without judgment.
  11. My parents loved me and did the best they could. (I am still working on this one.)
  12. No matter how horrible you think you look in a picture in ten years, you will look at it and say, “Damn, I wish I looked that good today.”
  13. My grandparents, loving adults from my church and neighborhood, and a few inspirational teachers, nurtured me in significant ways. I owe the universe a boatload of kindness.
  14. Moving forward requires forgiveness.
  15. The best teachers believe that all children can learn.
  16. The best schools focus on the achievement of personal best and not test scores. (Hat tip to Tom Northrup)
  17. I could have saved a lot of hassle if I had purchased the $100 turkey roasting pan 21 years ago instead of buying the $4 aluminum foil pan twice every year.
  18. A true friend listens without judgment.
  19. Laughing makes everything better. If you need a laugh, watch an episode of I Love Lucy. I promise the world will look brighter.
  20. The most important organ for great sex is the one between your ears.
  21. If I am thinking about what I am going to say, I am not listening.
  22. Questions are more important than answers.
  23. I am a “poodle” person.
  24. Samuel Johnson was right. The man who is tired of London is tired of life.
  25. Every child deserves unconditional love.
  26. Every child needs the opportunity to contribute something meaningful to family, school, community.
  27. The Bible and other religious texts contain profound truths, but they are not history or science books.
  28. Faith does not exist without doubt.
  29. Apply sunscreen liberally, but you don’t have to wait thirty minutes after eating to get back in the water.
  30. When you are totally frazzled: stop, breathe, give thanks, smile.
  31. Curiosity is more interesting than certainty.
  32. Partake of art, entertainment, news, and punditry that challenges your assumptions, and makes you uncomfortable.
  33. You are immensely lucky if you have the opportunity to do work that matters. Figure out what matters and then make your luck.
  34. Life is too short to work for money, to tolerate unethical people, or serve in an organization that promotes an agenda in conflict with your values.
  35. Walking is better than driving, but it probably will never make my ass smaller.
  36. Read the obits.
  37. Compassion is not pity or charity. (The Buddha)
  38. I have learned the most surprising things from the most unlikely people.
  39. Winning is better than losing, but it’s only a game.
  40. I treasure people who make me think.
  41. It is worth getting up early to exercise, but it probably won’t make my thighs look Madonna’s.
  42. Parenting is the hardest thing I have ever done. I wouldn’t have missed the opportunity for anything in the universe.
  43. Mean people are a waste of time.
  44. A lively debate is better than gossip.
  45. Lewis Meyer was right. The more books you read, the taller you’ll grow.
  46. Life is hard, unfair, and beautiful.
  47. Never cut your own hair. (Trust me on this. I am not allowed near scissors at my house.)
  48. I have learned more from failing than from succeeding. I hate failing.
  49. Love requires commitment, putting the other person’s needs ahead of your wants. (Hat tip to Lewis Smedes)
  50. It is challenging to discern the difference between a want and a need. Don’t stop trying.
  51. I can get through the thing that terrifies me the most. So can you.
  52. Seize the moment- enjoy every sandwich- (Nod to Warren Zevon for the sandwich part)
  53. Don’t miss an opportunity to tell people they are loved. Whisper it in their ear, tweet it, shout it from the rooftops, send a secret hand signal, just make sure they know.
  54. Love truly is all you need.
  55. Ok, love isn’t all you need if you are an older woman. This older woman needs tweezers and turtlenecks.
  56. Detachment is not the same thing as apathy.
  57. When your 30-year-old colleague tells you, “You look elegant,” you have crossed the line to ‘older woman.” There is no going back. Embrace it and laugh.
  58. When starting a new venture, most people desire to make a lot of money or do important work or both. But soon, if you are lucky and chose well, you look forward to going to the office because you enjoy the people with whom you work. (I stole this from Max Ventilla)
  59. Be like Bowie. You probably aren’t going to marry a supermodel or become a rock star, but you can follow his example to push out of your comfort zone continuously. In Michale Apted’s film, Inspirations Bowie said,

60. Sit long, talk much, laugh often. (from my dear, late friend, Susie Curry)

61. Grief is not one thing. It is panic, heartache, guilt, desperation, anger, bewilderment, and an enormous gaping hole in your life. It will make you do crazy things. Try not to hurt people. Forgive yourself.

62. Strength without vulnerability is dangerous. Eventually, you will collapse. Bill Withers offered great advice in Lean On Me.

Please swallow your pride if I have things you need to borrow. For no one can fill those of your needs that you won’t let show. You can call on me brother when you need a hand. We all need somebody to lean on.

Leaning on each other is precisely what we do when we love others and allow ourselves to be loved. Show your vulnerability without shame or fear. We lean, we collapse, we pick each other up, we love.

Thanks for reading. Most of all, thanks for letting me lean on you. It’s been a rough three years. I would not have made it without my wonderful daughter and my wise, patient, and caring friends.


Educator, entrepreneur, boundary crosser, community builder, advocate for learners of all ages.