A few days ago, 2 March 2020, was what would have been Theodor Geisel’s 116th birthday. Better known as Dr. Seuss, he spent decades writing some of the most popular children’s stories enjoyed by generations of people around the world.
The man is a legend and the creator of what many will agree are among the most creative, tongue-twisting, humorous stories around. (I once convinced a teacher to let me recite “The Tweetle Beetle Battle” as a poetry memorization assignment!) They’re so much more than children’s stories, though! There’s a beautiful meaning within so many of them if we only pay attention. (Paying attention is such a rare skill these days and we miss out on so much nuance… but that’s another topic altogether.) Throughout the day of his birthday, I encountered several touching tributes to this poet, my favorite being a quick piece on NPR where several of the Morning Edition hosts read a few of Seuss’ most widely known or inspirational quotes.
Much of what Seuss wrote about could be considered universal in my view. It’s great inspiration for my own pursuits with this blog and beyond, so hearing those lines during a period of writer’s block was helpful motivation to get out of my lull. As yet another tangent (my readers should be used to them by now), hearing the lovely tribute to a man’s life on his birthday decades after he passed reminds me of what I believe is a Jewish anecdote: “People often die twice. The first time is when they stop breathing, the second time is when they are forgotten.”
It is enough to make anyone contemplative; celebrating a man’s birth, reflecting upon his impact on the world, remembering his death and legacy. A review of an entire lifetime in the period of a few minutes. I think I was even more contemplative because my own birthday was quickly approaching. Today is my birthday.
As I have been reflecting upon my experiences in order to share them on these pages, I feel fortunate. It takes a lot of time, energy, and emotion to get through them sometimes, and some of the harder ones are still in the drafting process yet to be published. There are ups and downs, the effort of dealing with emotional memories and personal history, reflecting on experiences that have been exceptional and worldly, as well as those that are challenging and seemingly insurmountable. As I write, I wonder what I could have done differently. I wonder what I would have done differently given a different chance.
Sure, there have been lessons learned through experiences. I might have handled specific situations differently to perhaps achieve a different outcome if I was given a do-over. Studying more for a test back in school, not drinking as much at some social gatherings over the years, how I’ve approached or handled certain relationships over the years… these are some of the more inconsequential actions I might have considered changing in hindsight but to be honest, I doubt they would have really changed my life in a significant way.
Then there are some more material things in life. I might have purchased different cars or homes at different times. Maybe I would have approached my overall romantic aspirations earlier in life (if I was even capable of doing so). I probably would have tried to communicate better with loved ones and even passing acquaintances.
But you know what? Most of the things we might look back on and wish we could have done differently… may still be done differently! (Something about the best time to plant an oak tree?) These are the things that happen in our lives from which lessons are learned. We should be learning to communicate better and more clearly. We should be learning how to collaborate with others, how to care more about things that matter in life and less about trivialities. We’ll learn how to better manage our time, how to juggle priorities, how to honor those who mean the most to us. The lessons teach us how to better reach our goals (even with our limited reach). Above all, we should be learning who we are ourselves. These are the things you can learn to do to improve you.
These lessons are the things we can change. But there’s another category: the things we cannot change. Most of these items I cannot change firmly make me who I am. These things we cannot change include the family we’re born into, our physical condition, even sexuality… I’ve thought a lot about these topics over my 39 trips around the sun, and I can genuinely say that if given a chance to change any of it, I don’t think I would. I’m confident in that decision because it has all contributed to who I am, and overall I’ve gotta say that I am rather satisfied with who I am and the life I’ve experienced. Many outsiders look at me and think I’ve had a challenging life. Sure, it could have been easier. But everyone has struggles. These are mine. If I changed them, I wouldn’t be me.
I also fondly remember how fortunate I am. Many of my blessings, like my struggles, are plainly visible while others are not. Adventures with grandparents growing up, laughs with my folks, enjoying a fine meal and delicious wine with good friends, trips both domestic and abroad with people who mean the world to me. Meeting wonderful new people with new experiences and perspectives along the way. All of this; all of the experiences no matter how horrible or amazingly wonderful, contribute to who I am. It’s what makes me, me. And that’s the quote from Dr. Seuss that stuck with me over the past few days…
“Today you are you, that is truer than true. There is no one alive that is youer than you.”