The roughly 23-year-old guy at Trader Joe’s and I stood gingerly talking about the salmon in my cart. It was all fun and games until he unintentionally drop-kicked me with this line: “People my age like to go to sushi a lot and I just don’t love it.” People my age.
For the first time in my adult life I felt old, swimming upstream to the youthful, free-wheeling existence I once knew. The roughly 23-year-old guy and me, separated by a few extra wrinkles, new grey hairs, the need for an alarm clock, and a hot shower. (And I didn’t even have my kids with me.)
Like the old cliche warns us: choose your words wisely. I’ve been living through a lot of cliches recently – life is short, life’s unfair – and this one is no exception. Words can uplift, help you make sense, educate, connect, or kick you in the ass (even with perfectly good intentions).
Discovering new meaning for old words, discomfort with new words and finding the “right” words has been the name of the game in conversations recently.
Circumstance: When reflecting back on the year.
Me: “My dad died in September…” still gets stuck in my cottonmouth every time. I will sometimes use softer words like since dad’s been gone or passed away which only help my brain and not my heart.
Circumstance: When new people ask where my parents live.
Me: “My mom lives up in Orange County”.
Circumstance: When my daughters are asserting their independence.
Me: Playing voice dress up to reveal the right tone and language – somewhere between yelling and my quiet time voice – that empowers us all and bypasses uninterested ears.
Circumstance: When hearing about someone else’s grief.
Me: It’s so hard to allow and hold space for the pain of people I love. Even though I’m in my own grief, I wonder what words they need to hear?
Circumstance: When I hear the word “Dad”.
Me: A word I’ve said millions of times has developed an entirely new meaning. It means despair, gratitude, crickets and love. It means the Dad I knew for 31 years and it means the angel Dad I am getting to know now. It means guardian and the one who still, always shows up.
Circumstance: When someone asks what’s helped the most.
Me: God. A God who doesn’t care if my church is surrounded by walls or water or pine trees. A God who is happily present in every area of my life – creativity, protection, love, dreams – if I invite him to be there. God, in me and in all of us.
Just like my daughters are adding new pieces to their vocabulary everyday, my language is also fluid and expanding. Growing by the ten half read books on my nightstand, podcasts and conversations with therapists and family/friends. Most importantly, as a practicing mindful, spiritual being – I’m working to discover the right words through my inner voice, my intuition, my heart. The guiding light of all impeccable words.
At the very least, I can practice my Dad’s golden rule: If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.