A Letter to my Boys on Finding A Life

Posted 12/6/17 5:06 PM by

I see you struggling.  I know it’s hard. It’s one of the most difficult times in life, ironically one of the times that adults repeatedly frame as “the best years of your life”, although we know that isn’t true. You aren’t the only one trying to figure this shit out.  I promise. We just don’t talk about it.  And that’s ok.  As long as you know you aren’t alone.  Searching for your happiness in this world, settling on a career and a partner and a life path is hard.  There is nothing easy about it, despite what anyone says. I try to be helpful, provide you with words of advice you can hear, but you aren’t always ready to listen. And I know, sometimes you just need to learn for yourself. As much as it pains me. So instead of continuing to talk … I am doing what I do best. Writing it down.

One of the biggest surprises of my life — as ridiculous as it sounds — is that there is no coast. Over the last four decades I’ve had a succession of thoughts (first of all holy shit four decades is ridiculous!):  “If I could just figure out what I want to do with my life.” “When we get married life will start.” “If these boys would sleep thru the night things would be easier.” I never got to “coast”. I think I thought that hard work would yield a destination with less conflict and turmoil rather than a fluid part of the experience of life. There’s always a next challenge, always a next trial, always a next thing. Sure you will have times where life is easier than others. There will be days that go perfectly and those days may even wind into weeks or months. But there ain’t no sunshine without the rain, Son. And when it rains I hope these words from your momma give you an umbrella to take shelter under. 
Feel the sun on your face. Really. Stop for a minute, even in your darkest hour, and tilt your face to the sun. Feel the warmth and close your eyes. Remind yourself that this too shall pass. Be present in the moments that will give you peace – find an extraordinary life out of ordinary moments. Take a bite out of a juicy peach, sip your coffee, walk to the mailbox, see a windmill and think of your momma. You three know me well, you know that I can get caught up in the chaos and panic of the moment.  This skill — being present — is one I work on every. single. day.  It’s hard, harder for some than others (I could make my predictions of the three of you who would have a harder time … but I won’t) but it’s always worth it. Mindfulness (yep, I used the word mindfulness) is grounding. I saw a short clip the other day on Earthing, or barefoot healing. It’s the practice (I can see you rolling your eyes. Just listen for a sec) of walking barefoot in nature, connecting with the Earth’s energy and using that to restore your energy and balance. Using the ordinary pleasure of walking barefoot to create an extraordinary life. Those opportunities abound and surround you. Find one. Ground yourself. Get perspective. There will be weeks, months or even years ahead of you where there will be little peace, where life may run a chaotic trek you will need to know how to find solace in small moments. Learn now. 
I hope you will learn the art of when to share your struggle and with whom to do so. It took your momma a long time to learn the difference between an acquaintance, a friend, a confidant and an ally.  You know I think it’s so important to talk (ad nauseum, I understand …) and get new perspectives and allow yourself a chance to have a different view. We can’t learn or grow or understand when our thoughts, fears, ideas and worries roll around in our minds unchecked by giving them a voice and meeting them with reality, perspective and the balance that comes when a thought is not ours alone.  When you do share, I hope you will share with someone who will keep your confidence, who will not use your deepest secrets and fears and ideas against you or be loose lipped with your confidences. I hope you will choose to share your most intimate fears with your allies, your thought provoking ideas with confidants, your favorite restaurant with your friends and a pleasant hello with your acquaintances. Learning how much of yourself to give — especially when life is challenging — is hard. You will make mistakes and will give the wrong person too much of you.  That’s ok, learn, and figure out how to do better next time. 
Whatever you choose to do with your life — doesn’t have to be permanent. Life is long.  It’s hard to see when you’re young, because while the years seem to stretch out into a future so far the horizon hides the end of the road, a straight path seems favorable. It seems as though life is more a race than a journey. Reality is, the best roads are winding, twisting and turning, covering as much experience and territory as it can. Say yes to surprises, say yes to challenges.  Someday you’ll be 45 like me, and you’ll realize that as short as life is, it’s equally as long and reinventing yourself can be fun.  Make the best decision you can at the time, with all the information you can get, and when that decision no longer serves you, choose again. 
Happiness should never be the goal.  You will fail.  Life is full of unhappy moments. It just is. Grandma Ginna always tells me, the more people you love the more you risk hurting.  You’ve known sadness in your lives, because you love a big circle of people. You’ve lost friends, you’ve lost family, you’ve seen illness (both physical and mental), divorce, and you’ve buried your favorite dog (no small sadness there).  Life is not always happy and happiness is never in our control. The only thing you can control is your reaction to the sadness and to the joy. You can decide to raise your beautiful faces to the sun and close your eyes for a moment, but you can not decide that someone you love will not be sick anymore.  You can not prevent your friend from dying. You have lived your life watching your momma try to control life. For 20 plus years I have tried to steer our family toward happiness. It doesn’t work. Life comes. It smacks you upside the head. Joy and happiness will come, they won’t stay, but they will be back. There’s a reason I love the beach and the waves. The constant rolling of the water reminds me that “this too shall pass.” The good and the bad. I also like the beach because I like to be barefoot – who knew I was Earthing all this time?
“Put yourself in the path of beauty”, Cheryl Strayed.  Or, as Mr. Goebel’s dad said it, “You can’t soar with eagles if you are flocking with turkeys.”  Remember the “30 for 30” we watched on Maurice Clarett?  “Show me your friends I’ll show you your future?” Yeah, all of those.  Surround yourself with people who want the best for you, who will support healthy decisions and challenge your thinking. I have heard it said, “surround yourself with like minded people.”  I disagree, surround yourself with people of like values, and also surround yourself with people who have different ideas and beliefs and cultures. Life is richer when it’s textured. I like the Cheryl Strayed quote because it’s not just about choosing good people to surround yourself with.  Surround yourself with beauty in the music you listen to, the movies you watch and try and read a good book once in awhile (I know, we won’t agree on what makes beautiful music/movies/books but listen to me here …) choose to fill your mind and heart with words that support your goals. Don’t spend all day listening to the nasty rap shit. You know the songs I mean. The ones you can’t play in public — or at least not in the presence of anyone over 22. Put yourself in the path of beauty. 
Go to the gym. Lift. Run. Bike. Hike. Skate. Play. Kayak. Fish. Hunt. Do. Strong mind follows a strong body. If you find yourself struggling, move. The most powerful medicine we have is exercise. Strengthen your body and watch your mind follow. 
I’ve been listening to Kane Brown a lot lately. He’s a talented, young, old soul and I’m sure I am not his intended demographic but I love his music.  My favorite of his songs right now is “Learning.”  Listen to it. “I’m gonna let it go. Forgiveness is something we gotta know. Cause if you hold on forever it’ll hurt your soul that’s why I’m learnin’ how to let it go …” Forgiveness.  Don’t give it away.  Don’t begrudge it either.  People will hurt you. They will disappoint you.  Learn how to forgive. Forgive others.  Forgive yourself.  That’s not to say that amends don’t need to be made when you’ve been hurt or you’ve hurt others.  It just means Kane is right.  If you hold on forever it’ll hurt your soul.  
One of the ways I put myself in the path of beauty is to read.  Don’t roll your eyes. I know books aren’t your thing … yet. (I still hope someday you’ll find the magic I do with words.) You all love to tease me when I pull out my “Big Stone Gap” novels, I’ve read them nearly a dozen times a piece – and there’s four! But what you don’t understand is that the word’s comfort me, I escape to a world that resembles my own but is easier to figure out.  My favorite line of any of the four books is, “No one loves you like your mother.”  I hope you know that. I hope you feel that. And I hope you take that love and parlay it out into the world to create a life for yourself that suits you — suits your needs and your minds — all while knowing I love you in a way no one else can. Nothing would please me more than watching you all take the love I have given you and watch you create more love, joy and life in this world, despite the certainty of life’s struggles.  My second favorite quote from the book actually comes from the movie version, “We hung on when times got bad and didn’t let go when they got worse.”  Hang on.  Don’t let go. Easier said than done, but I have your back. xoxo

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