Happy New Year! I know, I know—it’s almost February, but it’s still a good time to talk about resolutions. My proposition doesn’t require a yoga mat or a Ninja Blender, but it does involve removing the focus from yourself for a bit.
(I just mentally saw some of you backing away. I won’t name names.)
This resolution is simple: Love (the people you love) better.
Don’t cringe—you love these people! I’m not even talking about co-workers or the table full of unreasonably loud chip-eaters next to you. I’m just suggesting you start with the people you truly love and value.
Side Note: If it’s actually your family eating chips too raucously, then that is something we’ll address another day.
By no means do I want this new resolution to take the place of your original resolution to post fewer selfies—please, PLEASE do us all (and yourself) a favor and stay.the.course.
Also, go ahead and organize your pantry and back up your photos to yet another external hard drive. Give coconut oil a try and see if cauliflower really can serve as passable pizza crust; but, in and around and between all those lofty Pinterest goals, I want to encourage you to just treat your people better. Make an intentional effort to be a better spouse, daughter, mom, sibling, son, uncle, grandparent, grandchild, aunt, dad and friend.
If your head is cocked in confusion, then you’re not using your imagination. The very best way to figure out how you can do better is to ask yourself what you would regret if that loved one was no longer in the world or in your life. It might sound slightly morbid, but that’s OK, because it’s eternally important.
Here goes. What would you regret if _______ was gone?
I have a feeling you’ll say things like:
Why did I fixate on the little things? Why didn’t I encourage her more? Why didn’t I thank him for the invaluable life lessons? Why didn’t I make sure she knew how much joy she brought me? Why didn’t I take a day off work and spend it with her? Why did I let our yesterday cloud our today? Why did I tell everyone but him how amazing he was? How could I have ever been too busy to hug her?
And on a smaller, but equally important note, you might ask yourself:
Why did I continue to leave clothes in the washer when I knew it drove her nuts? Why didn’t I rub his shoulders more often? Why didn’t I put my dirty clothes where she asked me to? Why didn’t I surprise her with more dates? Why did I stop leaving him love notes? Why did I play on my phone when I could have been reading to her? Why did I always let my car get below half a tank when I knew it was his pet peeve? Why did I try to temper her spontaneity? Why did I miss his games for meaningless work meetings? Why did we stop talking for hours and replace it with texts? Why didn’t I write him letters when he was serving our country overseas?
When your loved one is gone, the smallest thing is going to send you into a downward spiral of unspeakable sadness. Yes, things like moving a load of laundry into the dryer and remembering how happy that would make her. Yes, things like seeing The Pokey Little Puppy at Barnes & Noble and remembering how she’d curl into you and giggle when you read to her.
A loss is going to be devastating no matter what, but if you can lessen the number of unnecessary regrets AND make your loved one happy, isn’t it worth the effort now? The only thing that will make paralyzing sadness worse is to stack on top of it a profound remorse for which you are now helpless to fix.
So let’s crawl out now, while we can, and resolve to do better by our loved ones. Whether it’s your relationship with your spouse or your mother or your adult child—if you search your mind—you know where you can extend more grace, be more patient and give more effort.
Does your husband do something that gets on your nerves? Like, does he always want to know the plan? “Hey, what’s the plan when your family comes in town next week?” Do you reply with exasperation because it’s a week away and you haven’t even thought about it? Does it annoy you that he continues to ask?
Here’s a tip … he’s probably a hard-wired planner and not likely to change. The quicker you accept this, the better. Just meet him halfway and get some plans going. He’s not asking you to re-shingle the roof or move cross-country. He’s just asking for something that meets his predisposed needs. All relationships are give and take, so just think what you might gain by meeting him in the middle here—this could open up a whole new world of him asking for directions and clipping his toenails in private.
Do we all agree that the majority of arguments start over extremely stupid things—sometimes so little and ridiculous that you don’t even want to tell your friends why your morning is off to a bad start?
Me: How’s your day so far?
Friend: Sigh, just so-so. Brett and I left the house kinda “off” today.
Me: I’m sorry, is everything OK?
Friend: Yeah, it’s fine, it’s just got me off on the wrong foot. It’ll be fine as soon as we text or talk.
Me: OK good. Wanna talk about it?
Friend: Sure, if you’re up for learning how CEREAL can actually cause a fight.
Sometimes you have to sit back and acknowledge that life is short—and grasp that being upset over trivial things OR needlessly contributing to someone’s fury, is a waste of precious time.
You: Hey, what’s the deal? You and Kirk seem like you’re in a fight.
Friend: Ugh, we’re not in a fight, I’m just so mad at him I could spit.
You: Oh no, what happened?
Friend: Grrr. He won’t use exclamation points or smileys when he texts me.
You: *stifles a laugh* Is this something you two can get past?
Friend: Who knows?! I’ve told him a hundred times that I can’t read his tone without them, but he still refuses—it’s infuriating.
To the one who feels slighted: Is it possible that you should just always assume his tone is normal and loving, unless there is reason to believe otherwise?
To the one who refuses to text properly: Could you tap the stubborn brake and do what you can to ensure your tone is reflective of how you’re feeling? Could you reply with more than one word, so she gets the reassurance she needs?
I’ll answer these questions for you both: YES, IT IS POSSIBLE and now is your chance to compromise. I can assure you that when he or she is gone, you’re going to wish you weren’t so unyielding.
Another way you can be better to people you love is to tell them how you feel.
I think it’s potentially a big mistake to assume that everyone you love knows you love them—and to what degree. Yes, perhaps your partner (perhaps) … but what about the rest of your family? “Oh sure! I say ‘I love you’ all the time!”
Not so fast. I’ve had instances where people told me something nice or extremely loving another family member said about me and I was stunned. Like, I knew we loved each other, but the details were such news to me. Good news. Life-enriching news.
So, consider that not everyone in your close circle really knows how you feel, and by all means, tell them! It can be a conversation, a letter, a card. Don’t recoil and say it’s too hard. Fighting in Iraq is hard; watching someone suffer with a disease is hard; seeing Odell Beckman, Jr. make that three-finger touchdown catch and realizing you could never do the same thing with 20 fingers is hard … but sitting down with a pen and paper and telling someone you love them—and why—is not hard.
Even if it’s slightly awkward, it takes about 20 seconds to say, “Hey, you know I love you, but I also want you to know that having you in my life means the world to me … and I didn’t want another day to go by without telling you that you’re wonderful and one of the best parts of my life.”
Again, all you have to do is imagine what you WISHED you’d said if you were no longer able to … and say it while you can.
When you’re in your final moments, which of these statements do you think will play through your mind and heart?
A. I wish I had more Facebook likes. B. I wish I had shown people how much I liked them.
A. I regret putting the care of my aging parents first. B. I regret putting the state of my bank account first.
A. I regret spending time with loved ones. B. I regret spending time being angry.
A. I wish I’d made more time for myself. B. I wish I’d made more time for them.
A. I wish I’d spent more time on my diet. B. I wish I’d spent more time enjoying a feast with her.
A. I wish I’d kept up with the Joneses. B. I wish I’d kept up with my old friends.
A. I wish I’d worked harder to get promoted to the corner office. B. I wish I’d made more reservations for us in a corner booth.
See, you didn’t even have to study and you aced it. In our bones, we all know these things. And we’re never going to be perfect. We’re never going to give every person everything they ever wanted—but we can do better. We can be more aware. We can try harder. We can be more selfless. We can and we should.
Let’s make this the one resolution we keep.