Things I Learned in 2016

It’s easier to learn things at your age, Vera, than it is at mine. Everything is new to you. Much less is new to me.

Nonetheless, there are always opportunities to learn new things, regardless of age. In fact, I can’t imagine living without learning. It’s what makes life interesting.

So, as I’m sitting in Starbucks in southern California early this morning, I’m reflecting on what I learned this year. Here are just a few highlights:

  • You never know. I’ll have more to say about this in Monday’s post. For now, suffice it to say life is unpredictable and always surprising. For instance, never in a million years could I have envisioned someone like Donald Trump being elected president of the United States of America. But he was. The lesson in all of this: you just never know what could happen down the road, around the next corner of life. I suppose I knew this heading into 2016, but it’s something that’s easy to forget. 2016 reminded me that the future is unknowable and can be less secure, and more dangerous and contingent, than I previously thought.
  • Life is short. True, I knew the cliché before 2016, but it seemed to become reality this year. Time seems to be passing very fast. I wish I’d fully appreciated this when I was younger. But it’s hard to do so when you think you have so much runway ahead of you. When there is more runway behind you than before you, it’s easier to value time. My hope for you, Vera, is that you’ll have a better awareness of the preciousness of time when you’re young than I did. I squeezed a lot of interesting experiences into my youth and middle years, but not nearly enough.
  • The mundane is my enemy. This year I finally learned that I not only loathe boredom but also loathe the mundane. This is highly personal, of course. Some people find great complexity and interest in things that would bore another. One of my favorite poets is Mary Oliver. Mary spent years in Provincetown on Cape Code, seeing and poetically describing things that people like me easily miss. Perhaps that’s why I like her poems so much. But that’s Mary. It’s not whom I am. In 2016, I learned more about whom I really am, and with that deeper awareness will make my 2017 different from my 2016.
  • Sometimes you have to stop doing what you love to make room for other things. Derek Sivers helped teach me this lesson. I love teaching college kids. But I’ve decided to stop teaching to make room for other things. I have some ideas, but I haven’t made any firm decisions yet. But I have decided to make room for other things, even if it means leaving something behind I like very much.
  • I could live anywhere and probably would if it weren’t for family. In 2016, I learned that, if it weren’t for family, I’d probably explore the rest of the world by moving to Asia or South America, or both for a while. Maybe not forever. But possibly. I’ve lived in central Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh (suburbs), Philadelphia (both center city and suburbs), Virginia and Colorado. Each has been special in its own way. But I’d live in another country, at this point in my life, if all else were equal. There is so much to see and explore around the globe, and to pass it up when you have the chance to explore it seems like a waste to me. Moreover, I’ve never felt like a stranger in my own land as I do now. I don’t like what America has become. And I fear what it’s becoming will be even less appealing to me. I’m not saying there are better places; rather, I’m saying it has never been so easy to leave this country as it is now. But it wouldn’t be a matter of fleeing. It would be the draw of immersing myself in something new and exciting. I probably won’t because of you (Vera) and other people I love. But who knows?
  • Things are even less important than I thought they were. Again, this is a lesson you’d thought I’d learned long ago. And I did — to an extent. But 2016 taught me I hadn’t learned it as deeply as I thought I had. In 2016, I learned that I really don’t give a damn about most things. By “things,” I mean physical possessions. I learned my life is still out of balance. I want to spend time with friends and family, and to experience nature and different cultures and places. I recently pitched a large amount of books (donated them to the local library). In 2017, I’ll probably shed some other possessions. The less, the better. 2016 helped reinforce that lesson.

That’s what comes to mind this morning. Yet I know there is so much more to learn. And so much wonder to experience. That’s my hope for 2017.

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