One way I try to cultivate a sense of intentionality and reflection throughout the year is by gradually writing a blog post about the things I hear, experience, and learn that I feel are formational for me. For the past few years I’ve published this post on my birthday. You can check out the posts from years 21, 22 and 23 here. In the course of this 24th year I have begun learning the following:
Have sincere curiosity about others. Ask questions for the sake of understanding and not to win. I think one key to doing this well is an idea I picked up from John and Hank Green which is, imagine others complexly. When I take the time to try understanding others on their terms I find that it’s easier to offer generosity and grace.
I usually don’t need to stand up. Rather, I often need to learn how to sit down, settle all that is stirring inside me, and take a measured look at what is within my ability to change and what I must let go.
We’re all children inside. Every year that I get closer to the age of my parents and teachers whom I looked up to as a child I realize more and more that none of them had the certainty or strength that they seemed to from my childish gaze. Of course most adults do have some reasoning and emotional regulatory skills that children don’t, but I think if you really press into anyone’s heart you’ll find doubts and fragility. Perhaps being a grown up is less about being strong and more about simultaneously seeing ourselves as unimpressive and lovable.
Language is an important tool. Tied up in our language is the way we form and understand power, meaning, ego, identity, and community. Trying to learn Korean has been like trying to ride a bicycle with my hands after 20 years of riding with my legs. I know how to communicate well, but not in this new way. I’ve crashed dozens of times, looked silly more times than not, and become frustrated that I can’t go as fast as I could before. However, I think I’ve also learned how to be comfortable in discomfort, when to allow a thought to go unshared, and how to pursue an end that comes slowly and with no small effort.
I am only ever here. This is a relief from the pressure to stretch beyond myself into spaces and times where I am not. Be it via the omnipresent presence of Facebook, or the nag to worry about tomorrow. This is also a push towards humility. I am only here, so I need to listen to those who are there to know what it’s like.
Family is important. Whether our family is happy, boring, weird, lovable, or broken, it’s important to remember that we are deeply connected to the people and places we’re from. If we don’t remember that we have a story—one that’s sometimes a little messy—then how will we ever be able to encounter the wonderfully messy lives of the people we meet? This is my third birthday in Korea, but it’s the first one that I’ve felt homesick on.
One quote I encountered this year that I am still learning from is, “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”
As my world continues to grow from Olympia to Seattle to Korea to beyond, I tend to forget some of the lessons I’ve learned in years past, but I’m learning to be okay with this. I think if I live well what I’ve learned and learn well as I live then I’ll be okay. The point is “to live everything” anyways, right?