Tuesday, 21 July 2009

So… what have I learnt?

I turn 45 in October, which means I’ve been alive since before man walked on the Moon. Not only that, but I remember when phones were made of Bakelite, had dials, stood on the hall table and were heavy enough to kill a horse, when mail meant a stamp and a trip to the postbox on the corner, when French money was francs, when ‘jogging’ was what you did to someone to wake them up, when computers took up entire basements of university buildings, when you dressed up to board an international flight, when cucumbers weren’t English and tomatoes weren’t Rosa, when paperbacks cost 20c, when therapists were masseurs, when masseurs were sex-workers, when sex-workers were prostitutes, when pets belonged outside and children were seen and not heard, when being gay meant being jolly, and when Rod Steward was actually still rocking.

I write this because my 17-year-old daughter asked me yesterday if I ‘still felt the same inside as when I was born’: ‘And not,’ she clarified, ‘counting what you’ve learnt; just how you feel.’

I do, as it happens: I’ve felt ‘the same inside’ since as long as I can remember. (Do you?)

But I have learnt some things. These are a few.

* Beauty isn’t what you see, it’s what you experience. Prettiness is all very well, but compassion, intelligence, a sense of humour and plain old-fashioned kindness are much more gorgeous. No amount of makeup can disguise meanness of spirit.

* Children are worth the heartache and expense. It’s a biological imperative to breed, yes. But if you put the energy in, you will get it out. Children who are loved and respected will pay you back, a thousandfold, in a thousand different ways, for the house in Tuscany you sacrificed for their upbringing and education.

* Pets are divine. Dog person? Cat person? Goldfish person? Who cares. As long as you understand the unspoken pact between you and your pet – you look after and love them; they look after and love you – that’s all that matters. (As a dog AND cat person, whose canine and feline pets all run to the car to greet me when I get home, this is a biggie for me.)

* A meal cooked together heals most ills. Osso bucco or samp, it doesn’t matter: preparing food and eating with loved ones keeps the wild world at bay for a few hours at a time.

* If I get cancer, I will not have chemo. ‘Cancer’, they say, ‘can be beaten.’ Not in my experience, which, in the last four years, has encompassed fully five people close to me – all, incidentally, entirely blameless when it comes to lifestyle: none smoked, ate badly, or drank or lay about excessively – who all fought long, painful fights, complete with expensive and extensive chemo treatment, and eventually died traumatically.

* No matter what they tell you, blood isn’t thicker than water. Family – and all that goes with that – is often more debilitating than supportive. You can choose those family members you like to keep contact with just as much as you can choose your ‘family of choice’ – your friends. The rest? Fukkem.

* Marriage is a really, really bad idea (with apologies to those of you in successful ones). Most of the people I know are either divorced or (for reasons I can’t begin to understand, but trust are sound) remain in marriages that suck at their souls. Why bother? Being alone is different from being lonely, and some of the loneliest people I know are married.

* Longevity isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Want to live to 90? Be my guest. Just don’t moan to me (although you won’t be able to, because I’ll be dead) when you can’t walk without a Zimmer, pee without a bag or eat without dentures.

* Music and red wine are an unbeatable combination. Alone or in company, a glass of good red and Neil Diamond (for instance; I’m not proscribing here) are all you need to get glad.

* Sunshine on your shoulders makes you happy. I, too, can make it through winter, with a big enough supply of firewood, my gutters cleaned out and my roof sealed. But give me balmy weather, any day: no muss, no fuss. Braais, swimming pools, not having to wear shoes and sleeping with the windows open. And lots of sadness-beating vitamin D.

* Bed is best. And that’s all I have to say on that subject.

* We’re lucky to be living in the electronic age. Remember when we queued for hours to draw money at the bank? When paying bills meant writing out cheques and mailing them? When being at work meant you had to be in an actual office? (When being a woman at work meant being a secretary or a nurse or a teacher?) When getting a flat tyre on a deserted road late at night was a calamity, because help wasn’t a cellphone call away? When losing touch with friends was permanent because there wasn’t Facebook? When making friends across continents wasn’t possible because there wasn’t email?

* A safe, reliable car isn’t a luxury. I’ve taken five years to pay off a brand-new car, and I haven’t regretted a cent. After years of driving skedonks with never any certainty of arriving at my destination (and much of that time with little children accompanying me), it’s worth more than gold to have a car I know won’t give out on me.

* Nobody ever really grows up. You know when you were 8, and you thought that when you reached 13, you’d know what’s what? And at 13, you thought by 18, you’d get it? And at 18, you headed eagerly for 21, when life would make sense? And at 21, you thought 30 would be it? And at 30, how you thought maybe 40 would bring understanding? Well, no age ever does. No matter how old you get, there are always more questions than answers. And that’s not a bad thing.

* It’s okay to be wrong sometimes. But only sometimes. Just kidding. Be wrong all the time if you want! In the immortal words of, I think, Dr Phil: do you want to be right, or do you want to be happy? Perhaps one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is how to say sorry: it’s seldom pleasant, but it’s almost always necessary.

* It’s also okay not to back down if you really believe in it. As part of the generation of kids who were ‘seen and not heard’, it’s taken me a long time, and too many skirmishes to bear remembering, to learn how to stand up for what I believe in without becoming strident. And, hell, sometimes I still do become strident. So? What you gonna do? Arrest me?

* No matter how badly off you are, there’s always someone worse off than you. Everyone’s battling in the recession, and I hear from friends every day who’ve lost their jobs and had to downsize in unexpected and dismal ways. Some have even lost their homes. But it takes just one brush (and in South Africa, every day, you can have several dozen) with someone living hand-to-mouth, literally worried for their survival, to realise how lucky we are to have houses (even if the banks do own them – temporarily, we hope), groceries in the cupboard, cars that work, warm clothes, etc.

And you? What have you learnt? Good lessons or bad, I’d love to learn from them too.

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Flores Hayes said...

a great find for panda fanatic!
my roommate and i LOVE this Morn Creations bag

Johann said...

Muriel, what a wise ole bird you are! Loved the blog!

tonypark said...

Makes me feel good to have just turned 45.

Hmmm what have I learned that I can share?

America's Next Top Model is not nearly as good as Australia's Next Top Model, but it is better than Survivor any day.

ali g said...

All wonderful...for my devil's number birthday [less 1 x 6] 3 days ago the highlight was reversing my ML Mercedes into the side of the CLK Mercedes. So for my birthday [yeah 66] I managed to prang 2 Benzs. Imagine what I'll be capable of if ever get to 90.
Bring on Dr Nietchke..whatever..

Muriel said...

Flores - Just keep taking those meds, girl.
Johann - A bit less of the 'ole', if you don't mind.
Tony - Thanks ever so for those teachings.
Ali G - Wow. Just wow.

The Woman said...

Great post!!!

Lots of good advice that I (mostly) all agree with.

Yor Nesot said...

Muriel, I enjoyed the post. You will hear from me quite often. I'm an old dog so blogging is a new trick.

Muriel said...

Hi again Yor Nesot. Thanks for your comments. Great that you're into blogging and dropping by salma.