39 Years Later…

I had a birthday last week. Thirty nine. I didn’t see it coming. I knew it’d come eventually, the way you know your parents are old or your grandparents will eventually die… everyone ages, so I will too, but not like them, right? I’ll be different, I’ll get older but I won’t age. 

I used to think the point of being a kid was to long to grow up, but while I was longing to stay up past my bed time or eat ice cream for dinner, I didn’t realize that along with adulthood not only came responsibility, but aging. Back aches, chin hairs, lines that start forming across my face like a road map. I wish I had more of an understanding of aging, not so much as a kid, but I would have liked to have been let in on the process much earlier than late thirties. 

Much like the first round of puberty and getting thrown to the wolves to figure it all out, the adult puberty of aging has been an uncomfortable and confusing process. Many have gone before me, many will come after, and so here are some things I wish I had known from my late teens to my early twenties, and how I maybe would have approached life a little differently with these insights.

  1. Your grandma will not always be around. It’s something you know in your head, but it will be hard to wrap your head around the reality of it until she’s gone. Spend time with her, as much as you can. Ask her about her life, her mom, her stories. She’s not just some old woman or even your mom’s mom, she’s a person who’s had multiple lives well before you were even a thought. While it may be your time to shine in your youth, don’t let your grandma’s light dim just because she’s old. She’ll grow into even older old woman, so regardless of what your relationship may have been like before, there is still room to love and grow and start completely over with a woman who survived multiple world wars, an abusive husband, a lost love and who’s heart has been softened by age. Let you grandma be a lesson to never treat someone as if they will always be who they used to be. The woman who you thought was a little too tough on you as a kid will be one of the most joyful older women you will ever meet. 

1a. Love the elderly. They matter, they matter, they matter. You will be surrounded by people who advocate for kids, which is great, but you’ll find few voices advocating for the elderly. Be one of those voices, they need it.

My Mommom.

2. You won’t always be cool. It’s not that you were ever one of the popular kids, you made your way around with friends fine enough, but being young gives you a mindset that compared to little kids and adults, you’re currently in the cool group. You’ll feel this way up until mid-twenties, when those little kids start becoming high schoolers. It will get worse as you get older, climbing your way into your thirties and kids you used to babysit are now making fun of you the way you used to make fun of your parents and their friends. Just when you start to realize that old people aren’t really that old (remember you thought 30 was old in high school), kids start calling you ma’am and new technology will come out that you don’t know how to navigate. You’re no longer the teacher of the latest technology, you’re the student, and you hate it. 

My advice, be kind to little kids, they’re the ones who are going to grow up and out-cool you. Be even kinder to your parents and their friends— you aren’t going backwards in age, you’re heading in their direction, so respect that they’ve already been where you are— just because they come from a different generation doesn’t mean they don’t know what it’s like to be a human trying to grow up in a world that “doesn’t understand the youth of today.” Every generation says that about their youth, you’re not special because you have technology, you’re more prone to awkward social interactions, so maybe appreciate the fact that your parents are trying to keep you human in a world that’s only going to get harder to live in. 

3. Believe in yourself. Even when you’re the runt in the group, the newcomer, the scrawny one, the less intelligent, the underdeveloped, the easily forgotten… believe that you are capable of more than you or anyone else knows. Believe that most people don’t even know what they’re doing or how to do it. Everyone on this earth is transitioning through life trying to figure out how each new season and decade works and no one has mastered all of it, and the ones who’ve have are dead, because only then is there nothing left to learn. 

Don’t act dead before you get there. Show up, try, be brave, cry, try again, believe in yourself, and do not give up on yourself. That meaning will change over the course of your life, sometimes to not give up will mean to keep going even when it’s hard. Other times to not give up means to learn to rest when necessary. It’s okay to say “no,” and even more so, “I don’t know.” You don’t have to know it all, except that you are worthy. Know that to your core. People will tell you you aren’t worthy… stand firm, respond kindly when you can, and know their words are about their own insecurities. Kindness first, followed by what is necessary to guard your own mental health. 

Figuring it out in a public space.

4. You will hear the things your mother says come out of your mouth. I don’t have much advice for this other than learn to laugh at yourself and think fondly of your mother. Perhaps maybe figure out if what is coming out actually rings true to you or if you’re simply repeating it because it’s been engrained. Cling to the puns and your mother’s sense of humor, you don’t know it yet, but it will serve you well in the future. 

My Momma.

5. There are no guarantees in life… including your parents’ marriage. This one’s gonna wreck you, probably longer than you feel like it should. Don’t “should” on yourself. Let yourself be sad  over something worth being sad about. Everyone will come out okay, but you’ll still have moments, even 10 years later, where you feel the sting of losing what you thought everything was supposed to be like. Your relationship with both of your parents will change, but will grow into something even deeper with the reality of life piercing the surface level of everything being “fine.” 

I love these people. With or without the matching shirts.

6. Speaking of marriage, it’s possible for it to be above and beyond anything you could imagine. It’s possible to be loved for you, all of your quirks and even your insecurities. You don’t need to morph and change ten times over in hopes that the current guy you have a crush on will notice you “just happened” to like the same things. You don’t need to prove to anyone that you deserve to be liked, loved, or even responded to… you are already enough, already loved, already worth it. Sometimes it’s not just the guy, but the timing. We all grow up at different times, don’t stunt your growth because a guy you like wasn’t ready to grow. Keep growing and trust the process. 

7. It’s okay to leave the church to get closer to God. Having grown up in the church and worked for the church, you’ll think you owe it everything. You don’t. The church is not God, nor is God the church. God is love, above all else. The church was never meant to show off the best of Christianity, the church was meant to love, help, and heal the broken-hearted. And just like we all mean well as humans, we all fall short. The church will too, after all, it’s made up of people. It will let you down, leave you out, forget about you, praise you, change its mind, and at the end of the day just when you need it the most, it will call itself a business and ask you not to take it personally. 

If there’s one thing the church should be, it’s personal. It’s okay to give up on what you thought the church was supposed to be. Go find God in nature, in creative endeavors, in your elderly neighbor. Don’t give up on God, or humanity, just reset your own expectations, knocking the church off it’s pedestal, realizing maybe it’s you who had the church ranked too high, for it will always be filled with lost people in need of a savior, which if they’re honest, is why they’re there. Forgive the church and take as long as you need to restore your connection to God, never again to confuse the two (God and Church) as the same, but not giving up on the people inside the church walls who may need more help than even they realize. 

This was on the chalk board of a youth group I showed up to work at.
Right then I knew there was a lot of work ahead.

8. Sometimes no matter how much success you have, it will never feel like enough. That’s just life and the human condition. It is essential to know in your core you are already and always will be enough. No accolade or sold out show will truly or permanently fill the void you’ll feel from time to time. The void, I think, is part of existing in a world humanity wasn’t truly meant for. Learn to live in the tension of functioning on this side of eternity. Rest in your restlessness for something more, trust you have all you need, and enjoy the moment, it’s all we really have.  

9. Not everyone will like you, ever, and that is okay. You’ll never win everybody over, so it’s best to just be yourself and let those who love who you for who you really are find you. You will want recognition for all your hard work, but don’t sell yourself out or buy more followers to get it. Maintain your sanity by recognizing that all the greats were misunderstood and under appreciated while they were alive. Unfortunately, most people have to die to be truly appreciated and for their work to be viewed as rare genius. As a result, some even opt out of life early by choice. But trust me, it’s not worth giving up on life, that’s not taking control, that’s giving other people power. 

People’s recognition of greatness is not what makes someone great, unfortunately social media will make you think otherwise. Don’t fall for it— the likes, the followers, the millions of views everyone else has. In all honesty, who cares!? They’re just as, if not more so, empty, some of them aware, some not, all still struggling to keep going viral or come up with the next hit. Keep your head down, work hard, look up, breath, and take in the joy of all your creations regardless of how other people view them.

In addition, be open to constructive criticism. Not to be confused with the online attacks from trolls trying to belittle people to make themselves feel better. Unfortunately, those people will always be out there, finding something to pick on you for, no matter how good, kind or neutral your material is. Give them what they deserve which is absolutely none of your time or mental space. Erase their comments if need be and erase them from your memory. 

Constructive criticism will come from safe people, who care about you, or at the very least care about how you’re coming across.

No one ever got better without the hard work of growth and coaching where they needed it. 

From wanting to be an olympic synchronized swimmer to stand up comedian! You’ve come a long way!

10. Hang in there. Don’t spend too much time waiting for life to get easier, the truth is, it won’t. The easiest day of your life will the the birthday you showed up into the world, by 39 more you’ll realize that while life is beautiful and fun, it can be really hard, and even more hard, sometimes, to care about it. Sometimes you won’t know why life is so hard, you probably won’t ever understand the meaning of it, and occasionally you’ll just want it to be over already. You aren’t alone. Where you fall short to care, know there’s plenty of other people out there who feel the same, and could use someone like you to show up and offer comfort without answers and company without agenda… just because, people are people and desire to be loved and seen just as much as you do.

I’m sure there’s more, and by 58 maybe you’ll add more, erase some or re-do the whole list all together. That’s the beauty of life, we learn as we go. The internet makes the process a little more dangerous because the world is not as forgiving as our past mistakes when they find them on online. BUT! Nothing will block your drive to live well, or your creative process to keep flowing, more than the fear of others and the fear of making mistakes. Somewhere along the way you’ll hear someone say “the mark of a true disciple is joy and bravery.” First try to remember who said it and write it down (you’ll learn more and more people want their credit). But mostly, cling to that… joy and bravery. May you have both, be both and spread both. 

Good luck!

💜 jj

Happy Saturday! Episode 2.

Welcome back to another episode of Stay in Saturday!

Thank you for joining me on this journey as we continue to create something together! I have so enjoyed getting to hear from everyone what this time is like for them. I have received a lot of great suggestions for the show, some of which aren’t mentioned in this episode, but I’ve taken notes and am already planning things for future episodes. I hope those go you who signed up for a goldfish have received them by now… please send pics, I’d love to share them!

This week not only will we lose track of time and spend half the day trying to figure out what day it is, I’ll introduce you to some of my talented friends and how they are using this time to channel their creativity. We’ll also hear from our friends “across the pond” about what quarantine is like for them, and I’ll try to do a better job convincing my husband to do a workout video with me!

Each week I’ll have an inspirational quotes segment, so if you got one you want to see in a future episode, share it with me!

On a slightly more serious note (Why So Serious? segment), We’ll touch on what it looks like to be a neighbor at a time when we’re technically “avoiding” our neighbors, and how social distancing is increasing our desire to connect. I think there’s certainly more to be said on that, but again we’re in the early stages of this show so that’s something we can bring up again!

I hope everyone has a great week and a happy Easter!

Tune in next week to possibly see me try to cut my husband’s hair. He said if I do a bad job he gets to cut mine so we’ll see how the goes!

Happy Saturday! Stay Inside! 🧡💛💜💙

*** If you still want a goldfish I have some left, just sign up for my email list on my website at http://www.jjbarrows.com See more life happenings and quarantine throughout the week on Instagram: @jjbarrows https://www.instagram.com/jjbarrows/

🎵🎵 Music in this episode:

O Tannenbaum– Vince Guaraldi Trio

I Want You Back– (acoustic cover) by Kenny Bern

Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright (acoustic cover) The O’Neill Brothers Group

The Corona Diaries

We got into Santa Barbara around 4pm yesterday. We flew in from Nashville, leaving the house around 4:30am to catch a 6am flight that routed us through Seattle, then Portland, then finally home after all direct flights were cancelled. Needless to say, I was exhausted. We got home in time to shower and start doing laundry, except I passed out before I could even get the clothes from my bag to the laundry basket.

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I awoke to my husband coming in the room to change clothes in a bit of a hurry, “I’m gonna run to the grocery store just to pick up a few things.” After traveling for two weeks we didn’t have much food in the house, I figured we’d go tomorrow but he said the governor had just ordered a lockdown on California— no one was to leave their house except to exercise, walk their dog or go to the grocery store. All businesses except health care providers were closing. “Stay home!” was the message.

Truth be told, after the stress of traveling in the middle of the Corona Virus spreading, I was looking forward to having to stay at home for a while without the pressure or expectation of having to be somewhere or be someone. 

In our travels we had made it to Michigan when things weren’t totally crazy yet, rumors of Corona spreading to California and Washington were starting to take place, but mostly we were just on the receiving end of text messages from concerned family members. I was aware that things were happening, but knowing my own self and need to remain mentally strong, I filtered what news I let in. Anxiety, panic, fear— All things I’ve spent years and thousands of dollars on therapy working through so they would not have a grip on me, crippling me from living my life. Mental strength will not make me immune to a virus, this I know… I still have to do my part to practice daily routines like washing my hands and taking my vitamins.

While mental strength will not spare me, it will keep me thriving and engaging in those daily routines that matter to get me through the tough times– to call loved ones, write letters, move my body and actually do the things that are being suggested we do to take care of ourselves during this weird time in history. 

I had two shows in Michigan, packed crowds and everything still seemed normal— a little panic around the globe, but it seemed far away and the audiences in front me seemed ready to laugh and not at all like they had to rush off to the grocery store to buy toilet paper and hand sanitizer.

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The hoarding had not yet begun, that I knew of. My last show was on a Thursday night. I woke up Friday morning to the headlines: “The NBA is canceled. Broadway’s gone dark. Disneyland is closed.” I had one simple thought, “Oh crap.” That was the moment I felt the severity of it. I read a few things and checked my email, the rest of the comedy festival I had been a part of was canceling the rest of their shows. People were complaining they weren’t notified ahead of time, “how come the festival wasn’t more organized?” I’m sorry but what company, organization or hospital was totally prepared for a pandemic to hit in 2020, really? A few psychics claimed they predicted it, and who the heck knows, maybe they did, but I don’t think you’re going to find a comedy festival relying on a psychic to help them prepare for what to do in case of a disaster. 

“Grace, grace, grace,” I tell myself. We all need to extend more grace, or at least I do, hard as it is. Grace to the hoarders, they’re scared. Grace to ourselves as we figure out how much to eat, where to get soap, and how to be nice to people when we feel stuck and exhausted. And grace to the underprepared companies and organizations who are finding themselves in this type of a situation for the first time and are also trying to figure out how to navigate it. We all have a bunch of feelings right now. Minimal facts and lots of feelings makes for a scary combination– an “us versus them” mentality and that isn’t going to help anyone. I don’t have answers, but I have grace for the people who are also getting on my nerves as they spread anger, panic, fear and anxiety faster than the virus itself. 

We left Michigan and proceeded with our trip. We arrived in Nashville where I was meeting up with my potential manager. “Meeting up” turned into being quarantined at he and his wife’s house as more news reports broke that businesses were to close and people were highly urged to stay home. Prior to arriving we had plans to stay with a friend but she had gotten the flu, saying it was “just the flu,” and I thought to myself only right now would people be saying “JUST the flu,” as if it was no big deal. Even still, we did not want to risk getting sick in the midst of traveling, and again I had to mentally navigate what was no big deal and what was a harsh reality.

We arrived in Nashville on a Saturday and things were still a little on the normal side. We went out to dinner the first night and brunch the next morning. Not a lot of people were out, but places were still open, people were still active. The air seemed different, but not yet eerie. By Monday morning the atmosphere shifted. Shops were closing, restaurants were on a to-go order only system. My friend texted me that she went to Chipotle and a guy ran to the door, dropped her order outside and quickly shut the door. It sounded like a drug transaction. 

We spent days talking shop, sharing our stories and getting to know each other in a way we maybe wouldn’t have been able to otherwise given our situation. Tuesday night, Josh and I debated going downtown, just to get out of the house. Not everything was totally closed yet and one of our friends had wanted to meet up with us, the one who had the flu but was now better. I did not want to go, I didn’t feel comfortable going out knowing we might bring something back with us, especially when it’s something you can’t even see. Maybe if it had just been us, but staying in someone else’s home, who were older than us, not to mention, someone I wanted to manage me so I didn’t want to be the cause of his death before we even signed. I mean, I didn’t want to be the cause of anyone’s death at all (yes, my mind went there), but I was definitely looking forward to working with him in the long run. I also didn’t want to disappoint my husband or our friend, both who seemed eager to meet up in the midst of this chaos, and I struggled internally as we got in the car to make our way downtown. We weren’t even five minutes into the drive before the silence broke. We pulled the car over, talked it through and turned the car around. 

By Wednesday we at least needed to go for a walk, but with it raining outside we felt a little trapped. We finally decided on going to the mall just to walk around. “NO ONE TOUCH ANYTHING” was the rule. Almost every store inside the mall was closed except for the arcade and Chick-Fli-A. The arcade? Gross. Of all the places to be open, the arcade is germ central! Chick-Fil-A? Praise God. Waffle fries, please. And some of those anti-bacterial hand wipes. The mall was almost silent, save a few noises from the arcade, making it the perfect setting for a horror movie.

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We peeked in a grocery store on the way home just to see the empty shelves— no meat, cheese, bread, toilet paper, soap— entire aisles cleared out. The eerie feeling was in full effect. I had Lysol wipes in my pocket so if I had to touch a door or anything I was fully prepared. That was when it hit me, maybe Bob Wiley wasn’t so crazy after all, he was just before his time. (For reference, see movie “What About Bob?” with Bill Murray— a must watch during quarantine).

 

Wednesday night we sat around the dinner table, sharing jokes and memes we’d come across throughout the chaos of everything. At first I thought the jokes were hilarious, but by day four I just wanted to hear a joke that wasn’t about Corona. They all started to sound the same, and who came up with what first? Did that even matter? I would think of a joke or write a thought down and then I’d see it on someone’s Twitter or Facebook account. Dang it.

It makes sense, we’re all experiencing the same thing, and comedians are always looking for the punchline in a given situation, so everyone is coming up with the same stuff. “I feel like for comedians, once this whole thing is over it’s gonna be a race to see who can get to the stage first with all these jokes,” I said. 

 

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Almost every show I had booked up through April has been cancelled so far. I don’t mind if someone else gets to the stage first with the jokes, honestly, I’m already tired of hearing them. And yet still, I am a walking contradiction who in her exhaustion still thinks she needs to share her own jokes, or maybe fears she won’t be seen as having skin in the game if she doesn’t. Honestly, it’s a relief to know we all have to rest for a second. The stage can wait. 

By the end of the night we had gone over the rest of our business matters. My husband poured us a drink and we toasted as I signed with my new manager. The world felt like it was falling apart, and here we were planning our future, clinging to the hope that despite our current circumstances, our future would be bright and full, with plenty of toilet paper for the taking. 

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Josh and I woke up at 4am the next morning to pack our bags and head to the airport, which brings us back to where I started— after a long journey with two layovers and an attempt to do laundry, me waking up to my husband getting ready to go to the grocery store because the state of California was going into lockdown. “Do you want to come with me or do you want to text me what you need?” He asked.

I was still a little groggy, “I’m confused, why do you have to go right now? I’m so tired. Can’t we go tomorrow?” He said it would probably be worse by tomorrow and we just needed to get a few things. My husband is never chomping at the bit to go to the grocery store, so it seemed important. I said I would text him what I needed. “You don’t want to go with me?” He asked. I laughed, “do you want me to go with you?” He paused and smiled, “well, yea. I don’t know what to get, I’ll get lost in the cracker aisle and we’ll end up with cookies and crackers for meals.” I love him.

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As soon as we walked into the store I wanted to leave— the lines, the empty shelves, the sense of panic, I felt it all and I wanted to get away from it. I told myself to remain calm and walk slowly. Wait my turn, just breathe, I’ll be home soon. I’m not gonna lie, as a true introvert, I LOVE this whole social distancing thing. We saw two people we knew in the grocery store. My automatic response when I see someone I know in the grocery store— pretend I don’t see them. My husband’s automatic response— “HEY GUYS!!” Sure enough, he flagged down the people we knew. My only relief was that we did not have to hug hello and it was FINALLY socially acceptable! It was the rare feeling of “this is amazing” while out in public. 

Yes, I love to entertain people and I feel alive when I am on stage, that is very real, but functioning in everyday life is a much harder story for me. Sometimes my biggest fear when people meet me is that they’ll be disappointed that I’m not like what they see on stage or on screen. Which goes back to what I was saying prior to all this— anxiety, panic, fear are things I already struggle with, I have to work hard to push through them. I’m sure this narrative is true for a lot of people, I’m not unique in that way. That said, Introverts, now is our time! Stay home, don’t touch, limit contact— we’ve so got this! I suspect the extroverts will now get a dose of what it’s like for us to function on a daily basis in an extroverted world. Grace, grace, grace. 

Today we cleaned our house and then I called Richard, my 80-year-old (former) neighbor who lives in Ocean Beach, San Diego. Once a neighbor, always a neighbor. “Oh I’m so happy to hear from you,” he said, “you know I been worried about you— how are you? Are you feeling okay?” I told him I was great, mostly just tired from traveling. He kept telling me I needed to take care of myself, I told him the same thing. “What about you Richard, how are you doing?” I asked, “You need to be taking care of yourself!” I didn’t want to add anything about his age, knowing the elderly are some of the most vulnerable, they already hear that enough and I didn’t want to add to the weight of it.

Staying mentally strong is just as important for the elderly, or as I have recently learned, they like being referred to as “the older.” “Oh I’m fine, I’m doing great, don’t you worry about me. I’m still cancer free and it’s the best I’ve been in years. Plus I know what they’re saying about this thing and I don’t need to be worrying about me… I’m in my golden years, I can’t be thinking about how can I make it last longer, I’m gonna let someone else do that thinking. It’s you I’m worried about, you have a whole life ahead of you!” 

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I called to check on Richard because I was worried about him and here he was worried about me. I had to assure him multiple times that I was feeling great. He asked about my family and my husband. “I bet you sure are glad you got someone to be with during all this,” he said, and I agreed that it was such a gift. “Yea, it does make it better,” he said and he was quiet. I thought of him being alone and even though I knew he was “fine,” I worried about how and when he would get out to get food. I’d ask and he’d keep saying not to worry, he was doing fine and had enough. To my friends in Ocean Beach, please check on Richard.

Before we got off the phone he said “You know, there was this coach from North Carolina, Jimmy V., he had this quote ‘don’t give up. Don’t ever give up,’ and that’s what I want you to hear right now. Of course he died from cancer shortly after saying that, but that’s not the point.” We both laughed a little, not at him dying, but just the delivery of trying to motivate someone with “don’t give up” followed by “he died.” Maybe leave that part out in the delivery.

“But he didn’t give up,” Richard said, “and that’s what we gotta think, not to give up.”

What does it look like to not give up right now? With so many businesses closing, people begging people to support their company, their career, their art, their music— we’re all in the same boat. Most people are trying to figure out how to make this work, how to get financial support while they aren’t working. And honestly, I don’t know. I don’t know what the answers are. I know that truck drivers, delivery workers and health care providers are some of the most important people in the world right now, more so than any celebrity, artist or musician. We NEED this over looked population of people. At the same time, people are connecting through music, movies and comedy, things to keep their minds clear in the midst of the struggle. I see people giving away free content online to keep people motivated— free yoga classes and couch concerts. The online community has become an important part of staying connected while social distancing. What gets created in these dark times has the potential to be very powerful.

After Richard and I got off the phone I googled Jimmy V. and found the speech he gave before he died. He said something very profound while battling cancer, “Cancer can take away all of my physical abilities. But it cannot touch my mind, it cannot touch my heart, and it cannot touch my soul, and those three things are gonna carry on forever.” We cannot control a lot of what is happening right now, but we can control how it affects our minds, hearts and souls, which will greatly affect how we function and treat other people in the midst of this. 

As we continue to quarantine, while appreciating the connection of the online community and social media, may we leave time and space to just be present. I think this was one of the greatest things Coach Jimmy V. had to say, and so I’ll end my processing with this…

“To me, there are three things we all should do every day. We should do this every day of our lives. Number one is laugh. You should laugh every day. Number two is think. You should spend some time in thought. Number three is you should have your emotions moved to tears, could be happiness or joy. But think about it. If you laugh, you think and you cry, that’s a full day. That’s a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you’re going to have something special.”

It may be so hard right now, but here’s to having something really special at the end of it. 

Hang in there.

simple wonders

I’ve been gone for three months. My travels have taken me from San Diego to Israel for a time, a stop in West Virginia for a while, as well as Chicago, on to North Carolina before hiding away at my childhood home for the holidays on the beaches of South Carolina. It was a beautiful and chaotic time, but I suppose that’s how traveling can be, beautiful and chaotic… as well as life, life can be like that too.

My extended time away was not premeditated, it just sort of happened and it might have kept happening had it not been for a dear friend who decided to get married on New Years Eve in San Diego. It was her wedding that called me home, and so I packed up my travels, flying halfway across the country, landing in Texas and hopping a ride to drive the rest of the way back to California. It’s safe to say I love to travel. I love being in the act of it, anticipating where you are going, being present where you are, finding the balance between the two and making room for both. Sometimes I take the long way to the grocery store just so I can travel a little bit longer.

Truth be told, I could have passed up going to my friend’s wedding for the sake of travel, but deep down something in me knew that something about this life had more to do with people than it did with how many locations I could get to in one road trip, and so unlike myself, I hurried home.

I made it just in time to see my friend walk down the isle. She was every color of beautiful, in part because the colorful tattoos all over her body made the white in her dress shine an extra shade of bright, and in part because you could tell her heart was about to explode with joy as she held her breath to walk towards the man she wanted to spend the rest of her life with. She made her way down the isle, caught a glimpse of me in the audience, and as if to be further surprised by joy, she mouthed “Oh, JJ!” She held back tears and smiled. My heart lept and everything about rushing home was 110% worth it.

“Relationships,” I whispered to myself, “people. There’s something about people that I know this life is about. Even when it doesn’t seem like it matters, it does.”

We danced the night away at her wedding. She shares the same affection I do for 90s hip-hop culture, so between Mariah Carey and Boys to Men, we could have broken the concrete floor with how hard we danced. “Dancing,” I whispered to myself, “there is something eternal about it. I feel too alive when I do it for it not to last forever.”

We sent my friend and her husband off in style, with sparklers and chants and fist pumps to the air, or to God, whichever your preference.

The wedding reception ended with a long night still ahead of us. In eager anticipation of welcoming in a new year, my friend and I wanted to keep dancing, but seeing as how we aren’t as young as we used to be, we get tired earlier in the evening… I’ll speak for myself. Knowing we didn’t feel up to bar hopping but didn’t want to go back home, we drove out to Shelter Island to get the perfect view of the city. The moon hung low over downtown San Diego, nearly touching the tops of the tall buildings.

We made plans to come back out one night and take pictures, which is still sitting patiently on our to-do list. After driving up and down the little island we noticed a hotel still lit up for Christmas with welcoming doors. People were walking in and out, some on smoke breaks, some on cell phones, and figuring it must be some kind of New Years Eve Party, we decided to venture over.

There was an older man sitting out front who noticed us looking in the windows, “just walk in like you own the place, turn to the right, go all the way back and there is a live band with dancing.” Perhaps it was obvious we  wanted to be involved with what was going on but didn’t actually know what was going on. “OH! Thank you!” we said, and with that I adjusted my jacket to make it look like I owned the place, opened the door and walked in.

We crossed through the lobby without anyone saying anything, “it’s working,” I said to myself, almost laughing as I passed the right we were supposed to take and walked straight back to open a door to a private party. I opened the door with an “I own this place” smile on my face and was greeted by a bouncer who responded to my owner’s smile with “do you have a wristband?”

“OH!” I said out loud (and “dang it” to myself). Just as I was about to explain myself, my friend grabs my jacket and tells me we were supposed to go right. “Oh, we were supposed to go right,” I said to the bouncer whose facial expression did not change. We adjusted our route and made our way past a dinning room full of older to elderly overdressed people. It felt very clear that we were outsiders as we kept walking, pretending like we knew where we were going.

Eventually we found the room with the live band and dancing. It had the vibe of a company party, business people letting loose for one night, my friend and I being thirty years younger than everyone in the company. I watched while the band played Stevie Wonder songs and older-to-elderly people got down on the dance floor, “this is gold,” I thought to myself. “We’re totally staying here,” I said to my friend. “Oh, absolutely we are,” she said, and our friendship made sense.

We danced until the ball dropped with perfect strangers imperfectly dancing. We welcomed in the new year with people thirty years our senior, and even though we didn’t know each other, something about the whole thing felt eternal; all of us celebrating together for one cause as if we were family. Perhaps it was the dancing, perhaps it was coming together of different generations, perhaps it was Stevie Wonder.

It was the best New Years I can remember having in a long time. Maybe at some point we all say that. Maybe there’s a point in which some people never say that. I tend to forget that New Years isn’t just some holiday in which I deserve to have a good time. Having fun on New Years Eve isn’t a right, for some people it’s just another night of trying to figure out how they are going to make it through. In those moments of realization I feel helpless, crippled by anxiety over the state of humanity, which is the exact type of thought you’re told to put away on occasions like New Years. After all, you don’t want to be Debbie Downer at the party. I don’t know where the balance is between living your life and keeping aware of the lives of others, but I think it might be somewhere in between gratitude and time and action.

I’m grateful I had such a good New Years, because not everyone gets one, I’m even grateful I allowed myself to have such a good New Years. Had I have sat on my worries about the state of the world, I would have missed out on the people right in front of me, not only my friend who I had the time of my life with, but also the people who’s story I don’t know, who may have had a hard year despite what their expensive dress says.

People are people, rich ones, poor ones, nice ones, mean ones, and sure, I’ll admit some of them are easier to love than others, but people are still people. Loving the poor and treating the rich like dirt is the same heart condition of loving the rich and treating the poor like dirt. People are people, with stories the likes of which we have no idea. I think most people are the way they are because of their stories, and I am increasingly convinced that listening to someone’s story will change the way you see them.

I’m grateful for where I am at in life, I’m trying to be present in the places I find myself spending time, and I want to do something when it is in my ability to do so to help other people, which doesn’t always mean giving someone money (in part because I don’t have any). I’m trying to embrace the life I’ve been given, allow myself to become more of who I was created to be, and in so doing, setting other people free to be them… something I think people need more than money… the freedom to be themselves.

Now that I am back in San Diego with a new year ahead of me, I am excited about what is to come, nervous too, but mostly excited. I set out to go for a walk the other day and less than a minute into my walk I ran into Richard, my seventy (+) year old neighbor. He asked over and over again how I had been and where I had been and said he was worried about me. Three months is a long time and I didn’t get to see him before I left, “I thought something had happened to ya,” he said, “I went down to your coffee shop and asked about ya.” Richard and I visited with each other often. The first time I met him he helped me put air in my bike tires. The second time we went for a bike ride all over the city.

Richard told me he how worried he had been, “I thought something happened to ya,” he said over and over again. “I didn’t know you were leaving… are you glad to be back, it’s good to be back, right?” he asked, almost nervous I might leave again. I felt both happy that Richard was so anxious to see me, and sad that I had not told him I was leaving. Honestly, I didn’t think it mattered, only because I had forgotten that when it comes to people, even when it doesn’t seem like it matters, it does. I didn’t realize what our frequent run-ins meant to him. I felt happy that Richard would care so much about me, and sad that I would be so careless with Richard. “I want to be more intentional with people,” I thought to myself.

Richard invited me in to share some ideas with me. As he asked what my plans for myself were, he said he had an idea. “Can you play a guitar?” He asked. I said I could. “Can you carry a tune?” he asked. I said I could… well enough. “You start practicing everyday, get yourself 25 minutes worth of material, you think you could do that… be in front of people for 25 minutes?” I laughed thinking about where he was going with his idea, “yea, between stories and jokes and singing, I think I could last 25 minutes.” “Good,” he said with excitement, “now you get yourself an act, practice everyday, record a little demo and send it to people. You start driving up the coast in your van and send the demo to people to say you’re coming, then you can perform in places all the way up to Oregon.” He laughed and smiled as he carried on planning my “career” as a performer. “Not everyone can do it,” he says, “but you could, you got the personality, you could do it!”

I noticed a guitar in the corner of Richard’s living room, “do you play?” I asked. He said he did as he laughed and waved his hand, “not so much anymore, but I used to.” I asked if he could teach me a thing or two on the guitar. “You don’t need a teacher,” he said, “if you got the basic skills, which you do, right?” I nodded. “Then all you have to do is practice everyday. So many people want to move on to the next thing and do all this fancy stuff, but they never master the basics, so they never really learn to get better, they just find new tricks.” I thought this to be true to my life in many ways, always anxious to move on to the next bigger and better thing without really taking the time to invest in understanding the basics, like loving people well, sending them thank you cards and letting them know you’re leaving town and won’t be back for a really long time, not to worry.

I asked Richard if he would play his guitar for me one night and he agreed that he would. He went back to talking about my plan to drive up the coast and perform in music venues and coffee houses. “And listen up,” he said, “you get paid to do this… no freebies! People are gonna want you to perform for free, but you say no. I mean, every now and then a freebie is okay, it’s good to give back, but you can’t do all freebies, you gotta get paid.” He smiled and stared off into the distance as if he were reliving a dream, “yea, you could just drive up the coast and play at night, it would be wonderful.” I agreed that it would. “I’d do it myself,” he said, “but I’m too old.” He laughed at the thought. “Think about it,” he said before I left, “you could take your van, plus you’d be good at it, you’d make people laugh.”

I thanked Richard and gave him a hug before I left. We planned our next bike ride. I walked to the coffee shop where I used to work and was greeted with hugs and screams of excitement. “YEAAA!!!” my friend yelled, “I’m just so excited I want to pick you up and pace back and forth with you in my arms!” So she did. My heart felt happy and loved. I walked to the bank to pray there’d be money in my account, also to deposit a small check, which was an answer to prayer (a combination of human initiative and divine interaction). I thanked God.

I walked down Newport Avenue, the main street in town, and I took in those fresh feelings of returning home. I took note of everyone I walked past, seeing some familiar faces hidden in the herds of tourists. I high-fived a friend and coffee shop regular coming out of his shop. I felt like I was right where I belonged. I walked to the end of the street that dead ends at the ocean. Everything had it’s place, the seagulls, the buskers singing at the ocean’s edge, the surfers gliding across the water, even the tourists walking aimlessly around taking pictures. Everything seemed to be just as I left it, and everyone seemed to belong, even the tourists.

I took in a deep breath to smell the salt water. I thanked God that I was alive and that I lived in Ocean Beach, California.

Last year was tough, despite what social media suggests, but I’m sure that could be true for many if not most people. In many ways I was nervous to come back to California. I was nervous to have a repeat of last year, and seeing as how that was the last thing I wanted, I almost resorted to not coming back. While it’s always an option to leave when the going gets tough, it’s also a way to miss out on the goodness of life, some of which is so simple you could easily miss it.

Rejoicing at my friend’s wedding, sitting in Richard’s living room, hugging my co-workers, high-fiving my friend on the street, smelling the ocean air are all simple joys I would have missed had I have not come back to California, not to mention prolonging panic mode as I tried to figure out what to do next. I so easily forget that my past experience doesn’t have to define my present one and that while I might have made mistakes before, it doesn’t mean I’m destined to repeat them. Prone to, yes, as humans we are all prone to repeating our mistakes, half the battle is being aware of that, but destined to? Absolutely not.

And so for now, I am home, enjoying my neighbors and living the adventure of doing every day life with the people around me. It is an odd combination of simple and wonderful, but I think that is what the best stories are made up of… the simple wonders that take place when you love the people in front of you.

May 2016 be a year of simple wonders for all of us.

 

richard

My friend Richard.