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  • My seven-year-old grandson sleeps just down the hall from me,

  • and he wakes up a lot of mornings

  • and he says,

  • "You know, this could be the best day ever."

  • And other times, in the middle of the night,

  • he calls out in a tremulous voice,

  • "Nana, will you ever get sick and die?"

  • I think this pretty much says it for me and most of the people I know,

  • that we're a mixed grill of happy anticipation

  • and dread.

  • So I sat down a few days before my 61st birthday,

  • and I decided to compile a list of everything I know for sure.

  • There's so little truth in the popular culture,

  • and it's good to be sure of a few things.

  • For instance, I am no longer 47,

  • although this is the age I feel,

  • and the age I like to think of myself as being.

  • My friend Paul used to say in his late 70s

  • that he felt like a young man with something really wrong with him.

  • (Laughter)

  • Our true person is outside of time and space,

  • but looking at the paperwork,

  • I can, in fact, see that I was born in 1954.

  • My inside self is outside of time and space.

  • It doesn't have an age.

  • I'm every age I've ever been, and so are you,

  • although I can't help mentioning as an aside

  • that it might have been helpful if I hadn't followed

  • the skin care rules of the '60s,

  • which involved getting as much sun as possible

  • while slathered in baby oil

  • and basking in the glow of a tinfoil reflector shield.

  • (Laughter)

  • It was so liberating, though, to face the truth

  • that I was no longer in the last throes of middle age,

  • that I decided to write down every single true thing I know.

  • People feel really doomed and overwhelmed these days,

  • and they keep asking me what's true.

  • So I hope that my list of things I'm almost positive about

  • might offer some basic operating instructions

  • to anyone who is feeling really overwhelmed or beleaguered.

  • Number one:

  • the first and truest thing is that all truth is a paradox.

  • Life is both a precious, unfathomably beautiful gift,

  • and it's impossible here, on the incarnational side of things.

  • It's been a very bad match

  • for those of us who were born extremely sensitive.

  • It's so hard and weird that we sometimes wonder

  • if we're being punked.

  • It's filled simultaneously with heartbreaking sweetness and beauty,

  • desperate poverty,

  • floods and babies and acne and Mozart,

  • all swirled together.

  • I don't think it's an ideal system.

  • (Laughter)

  • Number two: almost everything will work again

  • if you unplug it for a few minutes --

  • (Laughter)

  • (Applause)

  • including you.

  • Three: there is almost nothing outside of you

  • that will help in any kind of lasting way,

  • unless you're waiting for an organ.

  • You can't buy, achieve or date serenity and peace of mind.

  • This is the most horrible truth, and I so resent it.

  • But it's an inside job,

  • and we can't arrange peace or lasting improvement

  • for the people we love most in the world.

  • They have to find their own ways,

  • their own answers.

  • You can't run alongside your grown children

  • with sunscreen and ChapStick on their hero's journey.

  • You have to release them.

  • It's disrespectful not to.

  • And if it's someone else's problem,

  • you probably don't have the answer, anyway.

  • (Laughter)

  • Our help is usually not very helpful.

  • Our help is often toxic.

  • And help is the sunny side of control.

  • Stop helping so much.

  • Don't get your help and goodness all over everybody.

  • (Laughter)

  • (Applause)

  • This brings us to number four:

  • everyone is screwed up, broken, clingy and scared,

  • even the people who seem to have it most together.

  • They are much more like you than you would believe,

  • so try not to compare your insides to other people's outsides.

  • It will only make you worse than you already are.

  • (Laughter)

  • Also, you can't save, fix or rescue any of them

  • or get anyone sober.

  • What helped me get clean and sober 30 years ago

  • was the catastrophe of my behavior and thinking.

  • So I asked some sober friends for help,

  • and I turned to a higher power.

  • One acronym for God is the "gift of desperation,"

  • G-O-D,

  • or as a sober friend put it,

  • by the end I was deteriorating faster than I could lower my standards.

  • (Laughter)

  • So God might mean, in this case,

  • "me running out of any more good ideas."

  • While fixing and saving and trying to rescue is futile,

  • radical self-care is quantum,

  • and it radiates out from you into the atmosphere

  • like a little fresh air.

  • It's a huge gift to the world.

  • When people respond by saying, "Well, isn't she full of herself,"

  • just smile obliquely like Mona Lisa

  • and make both of you a nice cup of tea.

  • Being full of affection for one's goofy, self-centered,

  • cranky, annoying self

  • is home.

  • It's where world peace begins.

  • Number five:

  • chocolate with 75 percent cacao is not actually a food.

  • (Laughter)

  • Its best use is as a bait in snake traps

  • or to balance the legs of wobbly chairs.

  • It was never meant to be considered an edible.

  • Number six --

  • (Laughter)

  • writing.

  • Every writer you know writes really terrible first drafts,

  • but they keep their butt in the chair.

  • That's the secret of life.

  • That's probably the main difference between you and them.

  • They just do it.

  • They do it by prearrangement with themselves.

  • They do it as a debt of honor.

  • They tell stories that come through them

  • one day at a time, little by little.

  • When my older brother was in fourth grade,

  • he had a term paper on birds due the next day,

  • and he hadn't started.

  • So my dad sat down with him with an Audubon book,

  • paper, pencils and brads --

  • for those of you who have gotten a little less young and remember brads --

  • and he said to my brother,

  • "Just take it bird by bird, buddy.

  • Just read about pelicans

  • and then write about pelicans in your own voice.

  • And then find out about chickadees,

  • and tell us about them in your own voice.

  • And then geese."

  • So the two most important things about writing are: bird by bird

  • and really god-awful first drafts.

  • If you don't know where to start,

  • remember that every single thing that happened to you is yours,

  • and you get to tell it.

  • If people wanted you to write more warmly about them,

  • they should've behaved better.

  • (Laughter)

  • (Applause)

  • You're going to feel like hell if you wake up someday

  • and you never wrote the stuff

  • that is tugging on the sleeves of your heart:

  • your stories, memories, visions and songs --

  • your truth,

  • your version of things --

  • in your own voice.

  • That's really all you have to offer us,

  • and that's also why you were born.

  • Seven: publication and temporary creative successes

  • are something you have to recover from.

  • They kill as many people as not.

  • They will hurt, damage and change you

  • in ways you cannot imagine.

  • The most degraded and evil people I've ever known

  • are male writers who've had huge best sellers.

  • And yet, returning to number one, that all truth is paradox,

  • it's also a miracle to get your work published,

  • to get your stories read and heard.

  • Just try to bust yourself gently of the fantasy

  • that publication will heal you,

  • that it will fill the Swiss-cheesy holes inside of you.

  • It can't.

  • It won't.

  • But writing can.

  • So can singing in a choir or a bluegrass band.

  • So can painting community murals or birding

  • or fostering old dogs that no one else will.

  • Number eight: families.

  • Families are hard, hard, hard,

  • no matter how cherished and astonishing they may also be.

  • Again, see number one.

  • (Laughter)

  • At family gatherings where you suddenly feel homicidal or suicidal --

  • (Laughter)

  • remember that in all cases,

  • it's a miracle that any of us, specifically, were conceived and born.

  • Earth is forgiveness school.

  • It begins with forgiving yourself,

  • and then you might as well start at the dinner table.

  • That way, you can do this work in comfortable pants.

  • (Laughter)

  • When William Blake said that we are here

  • to learn to endure the beams of love,

  • he knew that your family would be an intimate part of this,

  • even as you want to run screaming for your cute little life.

  • But I promise you are up to it.

  • You can do it, Cinderella, you can do it,

  • and you will be amazed.

  • Nine: food.

  • Try to do a little better.

  • I think you know what I mean.

  • (Laughter)

  • Number 10 --

  • (Laughter)

  • grace.

  • Grace is spiritual WD-40,

  • or water wings.

  • The mystery of grace is that God loves Henry Kissinger and Vladimir Putin

  • and me

  • exactly as much as He or She loves your new grandchild.

  • Go figure.

  • (Laughter)

  • The movement of grace is what changes us, heals us

  • and heals our world.

  • To summon grace, say, "Help," and then buckle up.

  • Grace finds you exactly where you are,

  • but it doesn't leave you where it found you.

  • And grace won't look like Casper the Friendly Ghost,

  • regrettably.

  • But the phone will ring or the mail will come

  • and then against all odds,

  • you'll get your sense of humor about yourself back.

  • Laughter really is carbonated holiness.

  • It helps us breathe again and again

  • and gives us back to ourselves,

  • and this gives us faith in life and each other.

  • And remember -- grace always bats last.

  • Eleven: God just means goodness.

  • It's really not all that scary.

  • It means the divine or a loving, animating intelligence,

  • or, as we learned from the great "Deteriorata,"

  • "the cosmic muffin."

  • A good name for God is: "Not me."

  • Emerson said that the happiest person on Earth

  • is the one who learns from nature the lessons of worship.

  • So go outside a lot and look up.

  • My pastor said you can trap bees on the bottom of mason jars without lids

  • because they don't look up,

  • so they just walk around bitterly bumping into the glass walls.

  • Go outside. Look up.

  • Secret of life.

  • And finally: death.

  • Number 12.

  • Wow and yikes.

  • It's so hard to bear when the few people you cannot live without die.

  • You'll never get over these losses, and no matter what the culture says,