When I was about nine years old, a beloved aunt on my mother's side was involved in a serious, life-altering car accident. The accident left her severely brain-damaged and wheel-chair bound, a condition in which she will remain for the rest of her life. Unable to speak or communicate clearly with the world around her. Whenever I see her, I reminded of what remains. And of all that has been lost.
It breaks my heart.
A cold, December night just before Christmas. The crush of metal and glass on flesh. She was just about the age I am now when her light was dimmed. Just about 39.
She loved her life. She loved it with a passion.
And so, to honor her life, as well as to celebrate 39 years of passionate living prior to her accident (while connecting her 39 years with my own years of life), I came up with the following list. A list of 39 ways to live a beautiful life:
Thirty-nine ways to live a beautiful life...in celebration of both our 39th birthdays.
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1. Breathe. Inhale fresh air from the great outdoors. Stop to smell the tree blossoms, pick a daisy, watch a bird in flight. Stay in the moment, slowing down enough to enjoy the simple things in life.
2. Jump. Jump on a trampoline, a bed or a pile of laundry. Jumping is what kids do to have fun. Take the hint.
3. Smile. Practice in the mirror, if need be. Then try it out on at least two other people. See if it really is contagious.
4. Rest. Sit back and relax in a chair that reclines. Then close your eyes and wait for it: that sigh of contentment.
5. Read. Preferably something that provokes you, lifts you, challenges you, entertains you, inspires you or encourages you. But if you are not in the mood for any of that, read Facebook statuses. They'll do in a pinch.
6. Cook. By yourself, with a friend, with your spouse, with your children, with your students. Try it. It will either make you hungrier or take away any and all impulses you might have had for binge eating. Especially when you cook with a five-year old finger-licker/nose-picker.
7. Walk. Go for long walks. By yourself, this will be rejuvenating. With a friend, it will be motivating.
8. Work. Work hard at what you do. Give it 100 % while you are at it. Then, when you are done the task, leave it alone. And go play.
9. Play. Play harder than you work. Life is about more than just going through the motions. Enjoy the moments that matter most to you.
10. Choose joy. It is part attitude, part emotion and part choice. If you choose joy, you are one-third of the way there already.
11. Have faith. It can move mountains. It's pretty good at molehills too.
12. Treat yourself. Buy something just because. Then use it. A lot.
13. Love. Love quietly, love loudly. Love anyway.
14. Express yourself. Through written word, verbal exchange or digital text. Tell someone who cares. And tell them often.
15. Exercise. Set goals and achieve them. Then set new goals. Keep at it. And make it doable.
16. Photograph much. Use your camera to capture your life. A picture is actually worth more than 1000 words. If you look close enough.
17. Travel. Go on that trip, vacation, voyage. Visit those places that you've always dreamed about.
18. Kiss often. Kiss a lover, a friend, a father, a mother, a child. Kiss a stuffed animal, when all else fails. And on St. Paddy's Day, kiss someone who is Irish.
19. Pursue your wildest dreams. Chase them down like a relentless hound after a fox. Don't let them get away. Spend your life following them. And relish the feeling when you finally see them realized.
20. Pray. God listens. He hears. I know. I've heard his Voice in a thousand different situations.
21. Step outside your comfort zone. Do something that challenges you. Something that makes you uncomfortable even as it makes you grow as a person. Use this opportunity as a springboard to help another person do the same.
22. Talk to a child. Children know stuff adults have long forgotten. Kids can remind you what really matters. When all is said and done.
23. Learn something new every day. And ask yourself, "What did I learn today?" Don't take 'nothing' as an answer. You know better than that.
24. Re-connect with a long-lost friend. Write then a letter, an e-mail , a Facebook message. Tell them how much their friendship has meant to you over the years.
25. Mean what you say and say what you mean. Don't be obscure. Or vague. Unless you are at a formal dinner party with people you don't know. In which, ignore everything I just said.
26. Laugh. Often. Heartily. Loud. Enthusiastically. So, so good for the body. Instant muscle relaxer.
27. Forgive. Seventy-times seven.
28. Get a hobby. You'll need it for when you retire. Might as well start trying out the more expensive options while you still have the money to finance it.
29. Let go of the past. That was then. This is now. Live in the day you are given. And let tomorrow take care of itself. But that's another point all together.
30. Embrace you imperfections. You aren't perfect. Neither is anyone else. You know that. So do they. Let's get on with what really matters: making the most of what we've got to work with. Short of Botox, what you see is what you get. (Until tomorrow when you wake up with a huge zit.)
31. Appreciate the little things in life. They are what matter sometimes most of all. Appreciate the little things that other people do for you. Sometimes they are the game changers. The moments in life when the tide turns and the perspectives change.
32. Join a club. A committee, a group, class. Be part of something bigger. Not because you are paid to do it. But because you want to.
33. Compliment others. Make much of the people in your life. Tell the people around you how awesome you think they are. Because they are. Awesome.
34. Seek. Search for something greater to fill the void than material possessions. Than earthly gains. That stuff will only last for so long. And then the search will begin again. Fill that void with what really matters. With Whom really matters. And find out how the search leads to a deeper understandings of what really satisfies.
35. Have birthday parties every year. Celebrate life. Each year you are alive is cause for fireworks. You made it! To another year! You're still here! How great is that!
36. Make new friends, new connections and new networks. While there is nothing quite like an old friend, you'll never know what new friend is on their way to becoming that soon-to-be old friend unless you meet them today. Get talking!
37. Enjoy as many moments of your life as is humanly possible. If there are only two moments each day, milk those two moments for all they are worth. They are precious moments. Even if they are rare. If you are fortunate to have more than two, than pass the love around. Other people could benefit from your positive outlook on life.
38. Love your neighbor as yourself. Be empathic. Be compassionate. Caring. Kind. Merciful. Do unto others. Even when they don't return the favor. But don't be surprised when your life starts setting a new kind of standard for the rest of the world.
39. Love Someone Bigger. And love with every fiber of your being. With all your heart and soul and strength. All else pales to this. It is the reason for being.
This list. A list of Thirty-Nine Ways to Live a Beautiful Life: it is a reflection. On the gift it is to be alive and well. On the gift it is to be flourishing, as a mother, sister, aunt or friend. A reflection on the gift it is to be healthy. To have a heart full of love. To be loved by another. And to have been given the gift of another year of life each and every month of May. For what is now for me 39 years and counting.
It is a blessing.
Thirty-nine years. For my aunt and I: it is a flash in time. And yet. To live each and every moment, present and aware. Aware of how much we have been given. Aware of how very much we have to be grateful. That it is the challenge.
Truly, it is a challenge. And even more so, a serious reminder.
For neither 39 reasons nor 39 years are the full magnitude of a beautiful life. They are just the beginning. But that is part of the gift. To keep on counting the many ways there are to live well. To live a full and beautiful life. And then, to find ways so as to treasure the gift. The gift of NOW: these wild and precious days and months and years which make up thirty-nine and more.
The precious moments of our lives.