With every mistake we must surely be learning

“I myself am made entirely of flaws, stitched together with good intentions.”

― Augusten Burroughs, Magical Thinking

I was thinking the other night about what got me here. Right now. The roads I never intended to take; the people in my life I would never have known if one thing on one day was different. The bad things that ended up having some good in them because they taught me a little more about who I am and that even the worst pain fades. Little everyday decisions that turned out well  and some serious decisions that changed the course of everything. Life never goes as planned and I think, for most of us, it’s turned out to be a good thing.

My first major decision was to leave home at 19. I was halfway through my sophomore year of college when I decided I couldn’t live with my parents anymore. I was so naive - looking back now I wonder, why didn’t I ask someone for help? Why didn’t I go to my college adviser and ask what my options were? I think part of the reason is that I just didn’t know what to do and it had been a tough year; now that I know myself better I can see that I isolated myself and drew my world in so tight around me that I couldn’t see past what was happening to me. I went to my classes and I went to work but beyond that I was barely functioning. My solution was to pack up my things, load what I could into my Ford Escort, and move two states away.

I lived in Memphis, Tennessee for a year and a half and I learned a lot about being an adult during that time. I learned that having a roof over my head was my first priority, so I made sure to take care of my car so I could get to work and pay my rent. I learned that having a phone in my apartment was a luxury I couldn’t afford, laundromats aren’t that bad, there are more nice people in the world than there are mean ones, and gratitude and saying “thank you” go a long way. I also learned that I don’t like being poor, and being hungry because you can’t afford to buy food is a scary feeling.

I eventually came back home and within a week got a job that allowed me to have my own apartment, make car payments, and live comfortably enough. Being a flight attendant had never been on my radar but they were interviewing and I needed a job. Because of that decision I saw parts of the world that I never would have seen otherwise, I met Ringo Starr and his much nicer wife Barbara, Stevie Ray Vaughan, the Seattle Seahawks, REO Speedwagon, Sam Donaldson, and a dear, funny woman named Alexis Maas who had just gotten engaged to Johnny Carson. The regular people were the most memorable; the two Marines who were escorting the body of a fellow Marine on his last flight home, kids flying by themselves to their mom’s or dad’s place, and the only 2 people sitting on the upper deck of a 747 from London to Los Angeles who thought it would be fun for me to teach them how to cook airline food - it was my pleasure and one of my favorite memories.

The decisions we have to make as older adults don’t always come easy and some decisions are just figuring out the lesser of two evils. Deciding what to do with and for my mom has been by far the toughest one, mostly because it’s ongoing. The major things like moving her here and finding her a place to live were time consuming but relatively easy. It’s stuff like deciding what to do with her things that are sitting in a storage unit and eating up $175 a month, deciding which Medicare plan is the best one for her needs, deciding how to protect her assets, and hundreds of other little details that wake me up in the middle of the night or have me fighting back tears of frustration.

Because of what happened to my mom, I’ve learned to be more comfortable with asking for help, I learned that being told “no” is not an endgame, and I’ve learned that it’s ok to admit that on occasion I am so confused I don’t really know what to ask. I’ve learned that some decisions demand time, attention, determination, and all the bravery you can gather up - and some decisions take little pieces of your heart that you’ll never get back.