And after it all, with love for the darkness and the light that makes it so,
XO, my Good’s & Grateful’s
“Hey, before you all go, can we ask a favor of you?”
The five of us, recovering slowly from a luau-themed, June-gle joint-birthday-party the day and night prior, were about to trek back to the car to assess the debris-damage that awaited us back home. We had just mustered enough energy to cap off our sunbathing on the bridge of one of the euro-inspired canals in Venice Beach, California, when Leigh approached us.
“Can you take a picture of us, but make sure you get the water in the background, all right?”
The 60-something-year-old woman with soft, pixie-cut blonde hair and layered gold and silver necklaces handed us her phone.
Leigh and her husband, Richard, in an all-white denim ensemble with slick-tousled silver curls and a gold-link chain on his right wrist posed. They posed with the smiles and comfort of two human-souls who have lived out their own dreams and lives, learned lessons along the way and laughed years alongside each other in moments leading up to this very spot on the Howland Canal bridge in the culturally rich Los Angeles neighborhood of Venice Beach.
The duo stood to return the photo-favor with stylish, matching, double-shade sunglasses with the outer lens’ flipped up, and we decided that they were way cooler than we were and consented to be adopted by our new grandparents.
I got to talking with Richard as his beloved ran with energetic youth to the water below, throwing up two peace signs in pose for another picture.
With a kind, seasoned disposition, he told me that all of the jobs, experiences and chapters of his life in production design, film studios and travel led him to where he is now– where he likes to be. At his 70-something-year-old age, he’s just gotten into real estate and is learning the business side of all of his prior professional endeavors.
“I almost went to RISD,” he says when I tell him I hail from Rhode Island.
“I chose to go to NYU instead and I’ve often wondered how such decisions play a role in changing your life. You kind of wonder what could have been… it’s oh, well, though.”
The nonchalance in his voice expresses his contentment with the way his life played out. His “whatever” is genuine and soothing. Maybe it all being “whatever” at the end of the day really can be a beautiful thing.
By the time Leigh returned and had gone back-and-forth about living the L.A. life with our token local in the group, the curious journalist in me was arising.
“So, one piece of advice?” I started, my state of dehydration from the night before altering the emphasis on all of my syllables.
“One piece of advice for us? Alright!” Leigh said, sitting back and intertwining her fingers palm-to-palm.
“Oh no, no. I meant if you two could give us millennials one piece of advice…”
Leigh enjoys this.
“Oh, that’s good! Ok, here’s a good one.
“All those hang-ups or insecurities or feeling like you’re not pretty enough or fit enough, forget about them. All that thinking your thighs are too big, etc., throw it out. I remember lacking that confidence all through my 20s and when I look back at pictures of myself from that time, I was smoking hot!
“You are beautiful right now, embrace it, enjoy it while you have it. Because you won’t have it forever!
“And enjoy the ride down,” she tells us.
Save your money. Think about retirement early on. Calculate your risks and invest in something that will offer a safe financial return for later.
Richard chimes in in response to a, “What about you honey, what’s your advice?”
“Save money, but also remember that money isn’t gonna’ do it all. It’s not what it’s all about. Do something that you’re passionate about… don’t do a job you don’t like, just for the money. Then you end up miserable living in a nice house.
“I remember being young and not knowing what I wanted to do with my life. I was quiet and insecure and I didn’t talk too much. I didn’t know. I tried a little bit of everything, and I knew that whatever I did I wanted to be the best at it. And that meant working with the best.
“You know, there is value in formal education but start working different jobs, get your hands dirty.
“And travel while you can. Travel teaches you everything.”
Though the five of us had planned to trek back to the car more than 20 minutes ago, we are content.
“Thank you for speaking with us,” I say.
“This is the kind of stuff that I love. Maybe I should just keep traveling to new cities, interviewing people and write a book, after all.”
“That’s a great idea,” Leigh says, “write a book!”
Richard and his kind disposition laugh.
“Alright, your turn,” says the ever-spunky and ever-lively Leigh.
“What’s one piece of advice you have for us?”
“Never stop sharing your advice,” I say.
I woke up from a dream yesterday morning where I was losing myself in falling in love with another person. In the past of my reality, I have tended to do this. In my dream, I felt it coming, and while this person was incredibly special to me, I felt that I hadn’t connected with myself once in the time my lover and I had been spending together. I went for a drive in this dream-land and ended up at a small, charming flower stand where I parked and was met to my emotion-processing dismay by a mother and two young daughters who, unhesitatingly, hopped into my car to sing along to the pop song I had playing.
The woman sat beside me, her daughters in the backseat singing and giggling in their own la-la-land that is life before the treasures and trials of love and loss have occurred, and she looked to me and spoke. The woman asked me if I had a love-person in my life, and if they were at the root of the heaviness in my heart that she could feel coming off of me. I told her I felt I was losing myself and it saddened me. I told her that he was treating me, but I was still aching for my own love. In that moment I stepped outside of my car, leaving behind my new friends. I saw serene pools underneath white, Greek columns above and I felt compelled to dive into them. It was my turn to lack in hesitation: I dove into the first pool, traveling its distance underwater until I reached the other side, got out and dove into the next one. My dream-gut trusted the women in my car with all of my belongings, and I needed to be swimming and diving into these pools at the moment.
I was immersing myself in the third pool when the mother and daughters called to me. When I returned to my car, all of the doors were open and it was covered in flowers. There were flowers in every door handle and crack of the window, underneath the windshield wipers and on the roof of my car, and a woman was still walking in circles placing more petals and stems to add to the collection.
“Some days, it’s potatoes that they cover your car in,” the mother said, coming to stand beside me.
“Happy birthday, love,” she said.
And with that, I began the first day of my 24th rotation around the sun feeling a little lighter. A little bit more self-aware. Incredibly immersed, and reminded to be fully diving into my self-love first. More than anything, I am grateful. I spent the first few hours of my birthday Saturday sobbing tears of joy feeling entirely overwhelmed by the magnificent amount of love in my life. This emotional overwhelm is not uncommon, and I embrace that part of me. I am grateful to have been touched by every one of you in this life-trek, and if I have ever looked into your eyes, know that I host unfaltering love for your presence no matter how close we are. I am grateful for my journey and pains and trials that have allowed me to feel such love and joy and light in this life. I am grateful for my truth and for learning to speak it. I am grateful for here and now. And of it all, I am endlessly grateful for all that this life is to continue offering me– be it flowers, or potatoes.