“Let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late…”

My friend Miss Pamela Des Barres teaches writing workshops all over the world. She likes to present prompts, and at her last class here in Dripping Springs she presented this line from a Bob Dylan song and it reminded me of an article I read recently, written by Bonnie Ware, a hospice nurse. Ware analyses the five things people regret most on their death beds. Twenty years ago I would have passed on this article, even ten years ago but right now this minute I feel close to those people, the ones sharing their last regrets. I have more life behind me than ahead of me, and time and love feel scarce and precious. So I read on through her Hospice experience and it affected me. Below is her list: 

The five things people regret on their death beds.

1. ” I wish I’d had the courage to live the life I wanted, instead if the one expected of me.”

This was the most common regret, by far. So many years we put one foot in front of the other, do what we need to do, what is expected of us, and we postpone our dreams for a later time. But later moves further and further away, and before we know it, it’s an unrealized dream. Sometimes we give up painting, or writing, or self-care, or reading trash novels, or woodworking, or dancing. We get busy and it feels selfish and a little silly to pursue interests and activities that generate no income and take time away from our other, more serious work. But apparently, no matter how far down we shove our desires, the need for these things never really goes away. It manifests as a regret at the end of our lives.

2. “I wish I hadn’t worked so much or so hard.” 

This one came from every dying male patient. Every one. Maybe it’s a generational thing with those older males, that determination to pour an entire life into a career. Or maybe it’s a male thing, spending as much time as possible in pursuit of a manageable goal because any family needs besides financial needs are complicated and confusing. But regret over spending so much precious time on the work treadmill and not enough with kids or wives or nature or friends or hobbies stays with you, make no mistake.

3. “I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.”

Politeness is part of our culture, so expressing how we really feel can come hard. But science proves bottling up feelings causes illness and disease. Staying with a job you hate, doing things you don’t believe are right will actually make you sick. And conversely,  not telling peple you care about that you love them can hurt them and you. Patti Griffith wrote a thought provoking song called “Long Black Car”, about an old man coming back from burying his longtime wife. One haunting line from that song stays with you– “How hard would it have been to say some kinder words instead?”. Regrets, but too late, too late.

4. “I wish I’d stayed in touch with my friends.” 

This nurse tried to help her patients get in touch with friends and relatives who had been meaningful in their lives, but people often change their names, move, die, so tracking them down was often futile. Those patients became frantic in their last days, scrambling unsuccessfully to contact those old friends one last time.

5. “I wish I’d allowed myself to be happier.”

This one was a shocker, because for so much of our lives we don’t even realize unhappiness can be a bad habit. We blame our country or family, or mates and waste so much time staying angry or irritated or dissatisfied. But folks at the end of their lives actually got it, that happiness was a choice and they didn’t choose it. And there was no time for do-overs. 

So think about who you are now. Choose to be happy. Stay close to friends and tell the people in your life just how much they mean to you. Take time to connect with your environment and do those things that make you happy. Live the life you were meant to live. If our hour is later than we know shouldn’t our interactions be meaningful and deep and true? Or at least true to ourselves?

 From a former thirteen-year old:  Thirteen bits of life advice

I was recently asked to come up with thirteen pieces of advice. These were to be bound by her mom, with twelve others from other elders, into a book for my niece, who soon turns thirteen in September. I really had to think about this. Children grow up. We try to be good parents but life keeps us all busy and  the next time we look our kids are thirteen, and too soon they’ll be on to their own lives. What are they taking with them? I was thirteen once. We all were. What advice do I wish I’d gotten then?

   1. Keep doing what you love no matter what.

People tell us this all the time and we mistake that advice to mean, if we don’t love it we shouldn’t do it. Well, that’s not strictly true. Lots of times we have to work at jobs we aren’t in love with but we always learn something from them. Even if it’s learning about the power of staying put or the importance of a work ethic or discovering what it is we don’t want. But work has a way of become all-consuming, so don’t get so busy with life that you stop doing things you love, even if you have to carve out time. These are the things that keep you happy.

   2. Happiness is a choice.

This one can be really hard to remember when you feel sad or upset or depressed or angry. We start out in this life thinking it’s other people who make us feel one way or another, but as humans it’s is our job to make ourselves happy and no one else’s. By taking charge of our own feelings we can change they way we feel at any time and this one piece of advice can make your life great now and your future adult life amazing.

   3. Make peace with cleaning-up.

 I know you probably feel like your family pesters you day and night about cleaning up. Clean your room, do the dishes, rinse off your plate, clean up your mess–it’s overwhelming, I remember. One thing you learn as you get older is, you always have to clean up. Always. No matter who you are or what your life is like, you never get out of cleaning up after yourself. If you work in an office your desk needs to be neat, your college dorm room needs to be clean if you want to find your stuff (and especially if you have a roommate). Even if you have a cleaning person, it’s gross to expect anyone else to pick your underwear up off the floor. You might as well make peace with cleaning-up right now. You’ll be a much happier person.

   4. Don’t frown, your face will freeze like that. 

My mom used to say this all the time and I thought she was ridiculous. Now that I’m older, I can see it in peoples’ faces: People who frown all the time actually have deep, unattractive frown lines–a direct result of the facial muscles making the same motion over and over again. It works the same with smiling, but smile lines are so much more interesting and appealing than frown lines.

   5. Learn to drink wine. 

When young people first start to drink alcohol, they usual gravitate towards mixed drinks because they taste good and the fruity base hides the taste of alcohol. The problem is, those mixed drinks are almost always made with tequila or vodka, and nothing makes you sicker or act crazier than tequila and vodka. Wine is sophisticated. You can drink it in mixed company without embarrassing yourself. It’s not expensive and is available everywhere. It’s also an acquired taste, but it’s a skill you can master with a little effort. European families serve wine mixed with water to children at dinner. Start with a little wine and ice and mix it with either water, either still or sparkling. Learn to like it and you won’t be dancing on tabletops and puking in gutters (and getting into cars with people you barely know).

   6. Travel

Get a passport if you don’t have one yet. Go anywhere. Go everywhere. Say “Yes” to any trip that comes your way. Travel changes you for the better in a way that nothing else does. It teaches us how much we are all alike. The most ignorant people in our country right now are the ones who never travel.

   7. Learn as much as you can about cars. 

Get your dad or some other knowledgeable person to teach you how cars work, what certain sounds mean, how to fill tires with air, check the oil, change a tire. You need to know why changing the oil regularly is good, and driving over curbs and leaving your windows down in a thunderstorm is bad. Cars mean freedom, but if yours acts up you’re at the mercy of auto mechanics if you can’t talk the talk, and it can be a very expensive lesson. Learn it now instead from someone who loves you.

   8. Learn about good bedding. 

Your bed can be your friend. It can also be your desk, reading room, media room and your sanctuary. At thirteen you most likely have been sleeping on the same bed and bedding for a couple of years now. If your bed’s a twin, it’s time to get a double or queen. Get as good a mattress as you can afford because you’ll probably be taking it with you everywhere you live. Learn about high thread count. Egyptian cotton. Feather duvets. You don’t have to spend a lot of money, because places like Marshals or TJ Max put really good bedding on sale for a fraction of the original price.

   9. Develop a relationship with a hairdresser. 

Now’s the time. Aside from the fact that you wear your hair every day with every outfit, good stylists are a wealth of information about everything. They know the best restaurants and their owners and chefs. They know good movies and the cute haircut Miley Cyrus got last month, in addition to what she wore to the Grammys. They keep you trendy automatically and never let you damage your hair, and that means you don’t have to work so hard at it. And, the good ones give great life advice. They’ve seen and heard everything, and can sometimes be easier to talk to than your parents. And if you ever need them in an emergency, they’ll likely be there for you. The thing is though, good hairdressers aren’t cheap. If you can’t make a deal with your parents to pay for your hair until you graduate from college, then you’ll have to budget for it. 

    10. Make friends with different kinds of people. 

At thirteen, we mostly want to hang out with people who are just like us. That’s normal. But you will gain so much insight if you have a couple of guy friends, a friend who is old, one who has a lot more money than your family, and a friend who has much, much less. A friend from another country with an accent can be fun. Accents mean a person can speak at least 2 languages and that’s a cool friend to have. Make friends with a salesperson at a store you like, or a waitperson at your favorite restaurant. Everyone has a story to tell, and it’s easier to make friends when you are interested, than when you try to be interesting. Get people to tell you their stories. Be the person who makes new friends wherever you go.

    11. Learn to sew. 

You don’t have to know how to make an entire piece of clothing, but whether you are a boy or girl, it’s sure handy to know how to fix a torn seam with a needle and thread, replace a button, repair a hem. Torn seams and lost buttons make a cute person look messy. And people are kind of impressed with you if you know how to sew.

    12. Learn to eat well. 

You can do this, no matter what bad family eating habits you grew up with. It’s not necessary to eat a desert after every meal. Half of your dinner plate should contain greens. Drink plenty of water. Don’t snack on salty, fried things that come in packages. Try to stay away from processed food of all kinds. Read labels. Keep chemicals out of your body: If you can’t pronounce it or it doesn’t grow, you shouldn’t eat it. It takes your body 1/2 hour to realize it isn’t hungry any more, so don’t eat as much as you think you want–just wait and see how you feel in a 1/2 hour. Eat lots of fruit and vegetables. Don’t do those crazy diets. If you eat well, you’ll stay healthy and healthy always looks good. 

13. Trust your intuition.

Right now your friends are the most important things in your world and if they don’t like something, you don’t want to like it either. They might try to pressure you to follow their lead, though you don’t feel right about it. You’re going to start hanging out with boys more, and they may try to convince you to do things you aren’t comfortable with. You might see your friends do things you don’t feel right about, and you go along because you don’t want to make waves. You may not know this, but everyone has a little voice inside, whispering the right things to do. Listen to it. You know, deep inside, what’s right for you, and it may be different than what’s right for your friends. Be strong. Stand up for what you believe in. Don’t dismiss that little voice–it’s your protection. Don’t let anyone force you by words or actions to go against your intuition, to think or say or do things you know inside yourself are not right for you. As you get older, it should get easier but some adults still can’t go against the crowd.

And pay attention to the music in your world this year — it’s the soundtrack of your life.