Wouldn’t it be great if we could all enter the world with a manual of “how to” instructions? Perhaps it could be called “101 Ways to Navigate the Highways and Byways of Life Without Becoming Road Kill.” The human baby could start reading the tutorial in the womb and then hit the ground running — so to speak.
Because human lives are so busy these days, the instruction booklet could come with a cheat sheet that boils down the essence of the life-guiding subjects for the new Earth journeyer to five simple principles.
1. Embarrassment never killed anyone — so chill.
This principle is a plate of armor that is best learned by the time junior high school rolls around, and it might even be needed as soon as third grade depending on the quality of one’s parents. Once you know that embarrassment can’t kill you, you can face down any mortifying situation, and any bully’s taunts, and live to laugh about it (someday). Accidentally pee your pants in sixth-grade gym because the teacher doesn’t believe you when you say you really, really have to go? In the midst of your classmates rolling on the floor in gales of laughter while they point their fingers at your feet immersed in urine, the pre-memorized instructions would be hardwired in your brain to repeat the mantra: “No matter how horrid this moment is, I will not die — I will live to see another day. It’s just yellow water.” Fall into a moat as an adult at an amusement park while trying to board a boat ride because the teenage boy attendant is flirting with a cute girl? As you try to pull yourself up and out of the pool (as the not-long-for-this-world teen just stares at you while you keep slipping back into the lagoon a half-dozen times), your brain would kick in automatically to the pre-natal mantra that brings you peace: “I don’t know these people, these people don’t know me, and I won’t ever see them again, so relax and try not to drown.”
2. Oprah is right: mindfulness is the word.
A person’s life rushes by like the speed of a bullet train. That’s what no one knows when they are born. As a child, you think you’ve got all the time in the world, and you’ll pretty much live forever, since forever to a child means waiting until next Christmas beginning the day after this Christmas happens. There is nothing one can do to slow life down, but there is something the cheat sheet insert would underscore: Learn to live in the moment. Humans are always scurrying to the next step. If you’re cooing and gurgling, someone’s trying to rush your speech to make you say dada and mama. If you’re crawling, everyone is cheering you on to walk and then run. If you're single, some busybody is nagging you to get married while quoting Shakespeare to you: (“Sell yourself while you can, for you are not made for all markets”), and if you’ve just got married, Aunt Mabel wants to know during the wedding reception when she’ll be hearing the pitter-patter of little feet in your house. When you have the little urchins, they will barely pay attention to life (or you) because they will constantly fantasize about growing up, getting out, and moving on. But when you are old, and death is knock, knock, knocking at your door, you will be perplexed and slightly horrified that so much of your attention was distracted by senseless things and foolish dramas rather than by abiding in the moment and just “being.”
3. People can’t fall in love.
Hollywood has done a number on us: people don’t fall in love — at best, they fall in lust. True, love is “grown” into. People grow in love. If a human knew that principle upon his or her entry to Earth, so much wasted time and energy — not to mention heartbreak — could be avoided. You can test this theory. Attend at least four weddings over the next two years. The groom is handsome; the bride is hot. She’s the skinniest she’s ever been, and he’s the king of the hill at his job. Notice the declarations of undying love “until death do us part.” Then check back with those same couples in ten years, twenty years, or more. If they are still together at each juncture and still profess to love each other, they will tell you the love that they thought they had when they cut the wedding cake together was microscopic compared to the love that grew and deepened when they supported each other through the death of a child, the loss of a job(s), or the cancer that ravaged one of their bodies. Love is meant to be cultivated in the soil of adversity — that’s how one knows the love is deeply rooted and mature enough to last until death.
4. You can’t change another human being.
People can only change themselves, and only when they are ready to do so. The newborn’s handbook would have explicit instructions to be followed as soon as the tiny person’s cognitive skills were solidified: cross-stitch a pillow, emblazon a T-shirt, or make a decorative flag that says, “I can’t change another human being, so I won’t even waste my time.” It doesn’t mean the new human won’t care about other individuals, they will simply be taught to know their limitations and boundaries with others early on — be it their grown kids, their drug-addicted brother, or their best friend who can’t stop looking for love in all the wrong places. The new human would be given a crash-course in listening, empathizing, and ultimately learning how to “let it go.”
5. Beware of Ingratitude
Pooh-pooh occurs in every human’s life across the planet — sometimes countless times, if they live long enough. If humans came to the Earth knowing that their journey would be full of gaining and losing, and that their attitude many times determined the outcome of their mental health and viability, our planet would have a lot fewer anxious people. The soul of the human story is one of losing and being reborn — no matter where one lives. In each moment of loss, if we relish what we have left — that we can still see, or hear, or love and cherish — therein lies the essence of life. The octogenarian who can no longer see well enough to drive but can still take walks around the block is a wise person if he or she doesn’t bitterly mourn the loss of freedom but cherishes and delights in their mobility. It’s all perspective.
Just think what your life would be like if you could harness the essence of these five principles at a young age. Over a lifetime, think of all the joy you’d encompass, the deep love you’d embrace, and the peace you’d exude. It's certainly something to think about.
Eleanor Tomczyk is a humor writer, motivational speaker, actress, and an award-winning voice-over artist. Ms. Tomczyk’s latest memoir is The Fetus Chronicles: Podcasts from My Miseducated Self (a mostly true memoir). Connect with her online.