A number of years ago, there was a book out about all the things you had to do before you died. Among the items listed was running with the bulls in Pamplona. Shortly after the book came out, I was at a party and the conversation with a bunch of guys I knew turned on exactly that subject. Each one of them said that they needed to run with the bulls in Pamplona. They asked me if I was going to also.
When I said “hell no!,” I was asked why not?
Why not? Well, because I’m generally risk averse and the very idea of running away from an angry 1,500 pound beast didn’t, and still doesn’t, appeal to me in the least. But besides that, why do I have to do something just because a book said it was one of the things I needed to do in order to have a fulfilled life? Who determines what I need to do? A book? Some meme on Facebook? There is some societal idea that somehow unless you are a well-traveled (preferably on camel in the desert or maybe instead to Borneo), designer dressed, Zagat-rated restaurant fed, member of society, you have not lived and that by not living that life, you are less than.
I spent a good deal of my earlier years chasing what I thought I needed to do. The pressure to do what I should or need to do is still quite oppressive.
So when I read this quote by the author Anne Lamott, I thought “well said”.
“Oh my God, what if you wake up some day, and you’re 65, or 75, and you never got your memoir or novel written; or you didn’t go swimming in warm pools and oceans all those years because your thighs were jiggly and you had a nice big comfortable tummy; or you were just so strung out on perfectionism and people-pleasing that you forgot to have a big juicy creative life, of imagination and radical silliness and staring off into space like when you were a kid? It’s going to break your heart. Don’t let this happen.”
I read the Lamott quote on Facebook and then took the time to read some of the replies, and when I got to this one I thought “Brava!!”
What this person wrote was “Or you had a nice, quiet life, not feeling like you had to explain yourself away with your memoir or seek out warm pools because you liked your bathtub just fine and felt ok just enjoying other peoples’ silliness and your creativity was included in letters written to friends and family. Oh, God: what if you just enjoy your simply amazing life without being judged that your life was not amazing enough.”
You see both thought patterns are correct.
Ultimately, what a person chooses to do, or not do, is enough. It has taken me a long time to realize that not everyone was going to enjoy reading what I like to read or enjoy the movies, music, or art I prefer. They were not going to like the food I enjoy. By the same token, what I enjoy reading or watching is mine, and that no, I am not going to eat snails, once was enough thank you very much. It’s not for someone else to sneer down his or her nose and question my choices either.
As long as we’re not hurting someone else, then we need to walk our own path. We may not like each other’s choices. I may prefer to have a picnic instead of bungee jumping off a bridge after a 10-mile hike, and that’s okay. You shouldn’t need to feel guilty for the path you choose. You certainly don’t have to read a book to tell you what you need to do before you die. Make your own list and be sure to review it periodically because your life path will twist and turn and it’s okay to change your mind.
What I think is that we are all different, like snowflakes. Run with the bulls if that makes you happy. I’ll think you’re nuts but that’s okay. I’ll be home reading a book and drinking a cup of tea and that’s okay too.
We all need to be our own snowflake wherever that leads us.
© Suzan D. Herskowitz