On the morning of my college graduation I sat alone in my dark, cool basement, wearing a long dress and a diamond necklace, my body convulsing with sobs. My roommates were out to lunch with family members, so I was free to cry in the way people only do when they know they are alone. My breath shook as I inhaled deeply, trying to hold enough oxygen in my lungs to satiate myself between shudders.
Only two months earlier, I had a plan. I was in love. I had a partner, someone to take on life with. And we had plans together. We had an idea about the future. We were on the precipice of signing a lease. He had been my plan and now all I had was daydreams and doubt. I was newly twenty-three, about to pass a huge mile marker in life, and yet what I remember more than anything about that day was just how sad I really was; just how lonely I felt.
For the past few years I have written something on each birthday, a letter of sorts. Some kind of wisdom from what I had learned in the year before. But I didn’t write something for my twenty-third birthday. What would I write about? At the time, my twenty-second year seemed like a culmination of the slow decline of my relationship and a dissolving of self-confidence. It was symbolized by letters of rejection from jobs I had applied to, anxiety about where I would live and uncertainty about where I belonged. I did have things to be proud of: a promotion at the restaurant I worked in, publishing the literary journal I was editing, and, of course, my imminent graduation from college. But those accomplishments were all dimmed by the ways I had thought I failed.
So there I was, hours away from putting on my cap and gown, crying alone in a basement and feeling guilty for not being happier on this momentous day. After I had cried all the tears I could, I walked upstairs, got a cold towel, lay down on my bed and placed the towel over my eyes. I didn’t want my face to be puffy and red when I walked across the stage at graduation.
The Ten Rules for Being Human by Cheri Carter Scott:
Rule One – You will receive a body.
You may love it or hate it, but it will be yours for the duration of your life on Earth.
Rule Two – You will be presented with lessons.
You are enrolled in a full-time informal school called “life”. Each day in this school you will have the opportunity to learn lessons. You may like the lessons or hate them, but you have designed them as part of your curriculum.
Rule Three – There are no mistakes, only lessons.
Growth is a process of experimentation, a series of trials, errors and occasional victories. The failed experiments are as much as a part of the process as the experiments that work.
Rule Four – The lesson is repeated until learned.
Lessons will be repeated to you in various forms until you have learned them. When you have learned them, you can go on to the next lesson.
Rule Five – Learning does not end.
There is no part of life that does not contain lessons. If you are alive, there are lessons to be learned.
Rule Six – “There” is no better than “here”.
When your “there” has become “here” you will simply obtain another “there” that will look better to you than your present “here”.
Rule Seven – Others are only mirrors of you.
You cannot love or hate something about another person unless it reflects something you love or hate about yourself.
Rule Eight – What you make of your life is up to you.
You have all the tools and resources you need. What you do with them is up to you.
Rule Nine – Your answers lie inside of you.
All you need to do is look, listen, and trust.
Rule Ten – You will forget all this at birth.
You can remember it if you want by unraveling the double helix of inner-knowing.
I told myself once that I would never again lose who I was because of a relationship. I would never again let my own image of myself be dimmed by others. I wish - honestly wish - that I could say I was strong enough at twenty-three, mature enough, to know that my last relationship ended because it just wasn’t meant to be. I wish I had been able to see that it wasn’t because of me, it wasn’t something I did, it wasn’t that I wasn’t good enough. I wish I had known at the time that it would be okay, that he wasn’t my only shot at a life with someone. I wish I had been able to let it all go with grace.
Letting go is a lesson I believe we will continue to be presented with in life. But you know what? Now, twenty minutes from twenty-four years old, I think that lesson, at least when it comes to letting go of the people in your life who are no longer making you happy, has finally stuck.
Tonight, an hour before the clock struck midnight on my birthday, a guy who I had been very casually seeing sent me a text. We had made plans a few days back to see each other at some point during the week, and he was writing to let me know that, yeah, he’d like to do something, but also that he really just saw us as friends.
I laughed as I read the text. I couldn’t help myself. It was just so well-timed.
I wasn’t all that invested in the relationship. He had seemed nice, we had a lot in common, he was actually taking me out on dates; the relationship was seemingly following a natural progression. He was checking off all the boxes of how I imagined a good relationship to unfold. Until, of course, I received the standard ‘let’s just be friends’ text that reminded me he really wasn’t that different from the ones that came before him.
I was being given one final test. One more chance to see if I really had learned my lesson.
I wrote him back and told him I was glad he had told me, but no, I didn’t think I wanted to be friends. Then I deleted his number and kept getting ready for bed.
If I have learned anything in this year, and man, I feel like I have learned a lot, it is that I am the only person I need to make me happy. I am the only one who gets to decide what my life looks like. And yes, of course other factors come into play, but I always, always, get to choose how I react to what happens to me.
Ultimately, at the end of the day and again when you slowly peel your body out of bed in the morning, you are the one who decides how you are going to react to life – which opportunities you are going to take, which lessons you are going to learn, which life you really want to live.
You don’t figure out life – you learn lessons. The more lessons you learn, the better your life will be. That’s all it is, I think. Really all it is. Learning how to figure it out, slowly, and one lesson at a time.
In my twenty-third year I finally learned, after an admittedly agonizing process, how to accept when the time has come to let someone leave your life. At twenty-three I learned how to trust in the path that’s being laid at my feet. At twenty-three I learned that my life is mine, forever and always. I have so many amazing people who I love who add to my happiness, but ultimately I have found that I can be happy just because of me.
So cheers to the lessons learned and the ones still to come. Twenty-four sounds old. But, God, it also sounds so very young.