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38 things I've learned

I was born on this day in 1982. Here are 38 things I’ve learned since then:

  1. In politics and personality assessments it’s seldom beneficial to paint with a wide brush.

  2. If you are at the grocery store trying to remember if there is any grapefruit juice left in the refrigerator at home, when in doubt buy more grapefruit juice.

  3. Imperfect action is necessary, and most of the time enough.

  4. Any religious idea can be dangerous. Most can be redemptive. It’s totally up to us.

  5. When kindling a fire, writing a poem, or making a friend: Start small and build slow.

  6. Carry a notebook and a pencil pretty much everywhere all the time.

  7. Binoculars are more useful in hand than they are in their case.

  8. Along with Audre Lorde, I think that, “In order to win the aggressors must conquer, but resisters need only survive.”

  9. Trees make good friends and good teachers. Oak, pine, cedar, and birch each have an intelligence all their own.

  10. When I was 14 years old, one afternoon at the peak of Ben Nevis in a bluster of snow, my dad taught me this: “Interest comes and goes, but commitment gets to the top.” I think that’s true.

  11. Also true: The top isn’t always the best place to be.

  12. It can be both.

  13. The call of the wild; the calm of the hearth. The thrill of the dark; the bliss of illumination. The quest; the retreat. We need it all.

  14. Along with St. Augustine, Thoreau, and Bilbo Baggins, I think that problems — whether logistical conundrums of the most mundane variety or questions of the soul — are best sorted by walking around. Solvitur ambulando.

  15. The quality of Bisquick biscuits is directly proportional to how far into the backcountry you’ve gone to eat them.

  16. A good bit of comedy has more prophetic thrust than a well reasoned argument.

  17. Blessed are those who are in on the joke.

  18. If you are paddling upstream in a yellow canoe and you get to a bit of swift water, it’s best to get out and walk around. If you decide to try your luck at somehow paddling against the rapids and you get spit out but manage to stay upright, it’s best to get out and walk around.

  19. The wisest among us are seldom in a hurry.

  20. Hope is useful when it’s also honest.

  21. Along with Jay Griffiths, I think it’s true, “We are animal in our blood and in our skin. We were not born for pavements and escalators, but for thunder and mud.”

  22. With Ita speaking to Finn in Frederick Buechner’s novel Brendan, I think it’s true, “Smirchy and holy is all one, my dear.”

  23. Earth weighs what earth weighs. And spirituality is a muscle.

  24. Sometimes the best way to speak truth to power is to confront ignorance with inquiry.

  25. It’s seldom useful to speak in absolutes.

  26. Blackwing pencils are the best pencils.

  27. Chapter 11 of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Two Towers is about the palantir, a dark orb with the power to reveal happenings throughout Middle-earth and to connect different instances of consciousness with one another. It is an instrument with immense potential, useful for good and toxic in evil. Of the palantir Gandalf warns: “Perilous to us all are the devices of an art deeper than we possess ourselves.” The same is true of iPhones.

  28. With a little improvisation and an eye for opportune moments, you can get more mileage out of three card tricks that you learned when you were 12 years old than you can out of a Dodge Caravan.

  29. What people need perhaps more than anything is permission. Permission to slow down. Permission to step back. Permission to experiment and to fail. Permission to play. Permission to be precisely who they are.

  30. The best thing about being a grownup: You get to write your own permission slips.

  31. Along with Mary Oliver, I think it’s true, “The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time.”

  32. If you have eyes to see and ears to hear, there’s as much truth in the opening scene of First Knight as there is in all of the sacred text ever written.

  33. It matters what metaphors you filter your life through.

  34. Selfishness is rooted in a lack of imagination.

  35. There is so much world.

  36. It’s not a competition, but love wins.

  37. Along with myself in the letter I wrote to my Grampy for his 100th birthday this year, I think it’s true, “What more does a man need in life but companionship, nourishment, some sturdy shelter, and a good bottle of mustard?”

  38. Along with Heather Havrilesky in one of her Ask Polly columns for New York magazine, I think it’s true, “All truly magical things in this world end in themed cruises.”

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©2020 by Aram Mitchell