Time has sprinted ahead of me, and I have lost the race. When you were born, I vowed to one day send you into the world as an all-knowing and experienced young man. Last week, however, after your 1:00 AM text regarding your clogged shower drain, I realized that there are a good many things that I’ve failed to teach you before you leave for university and the independent life of an adult.
As a poor substitute for effort and experience, I have written a list of things that I feel you need to know but failed to impress upon you in the eighteen years I have had to do so. Please understand that had I been given more time (maybe another thirty years or so) I would have taught you all of these important life lessons and more.
But don’t take that to mean I am inviting you to stay…
On with the wisdom, and remember to read between the lines with your tongue in your cheek.
Some people dip their food in puddles of ranch dressing and then eat the results. Trust me; there is nothing you can do about it. Just hold your nose while they eat, and try not to look at the creamy corners of their mouth or smell their breath. I suspect that some of these same people also wipe their boogers on the bathroom wall, fart while in line at the bank, and eat homemade yogurt in the library. In your travels through life, you’ll also meet people that kiss their pets on the mouth, people that would rather ride 50 miles on a bike than eat ice cream, and people who believe that reality TV shows are unscripted. I don’t know what to tell you, other than to say that everybody poops, so everyone has their own crap to deal with, and they deal with it in their own way. Try your best to love them all, and let God sort them out later.
Don’t eat tuna fish on a date, during an interview, or at the movies. Eat it like I trained you; only on Sundays after church, when everyone else is napping.
Germs are everywhere! Don’t just wash your hand every five minutes; wear a protective biohazard suit every day. Well, maybe not every day, because you don’t want to risk losing your immune system altogether. Avoid door knobs, TV remotes, and wearing other people’s gym clothes. A controlled encounter with germs can be good for you, however, so if you feel that you haven’t been exposed in a while, kiss a girl; they are covered in cooties. Delicious cooties.
The Most Dangerous of Creatures:
Speaking of cootie carriers, girls are roaming all over out there, so be aware and prepare yourself for exposure. You will notice that most of them are cute, lots of them are pretty, and some of them are gorgeous, but don’t be fooled; all of them are dangerous. Shower often, wear clean clothes, comb your hair, and make sure you always have mints to freshen your breath, because all of this confuses them and seems to render them uninterested and harmless. The nicer you are and the more you go to class, the less likely you are to be approached (and eventually devoured) by a girl. Be on your guard at all times; they are unpredictable, and will strike for the heart when you are least expecting it. Your mother caught me off guard, and look at me now, all infected with happiness and love. Mush, mush, kiss, kiss, ugh, ugh.
Knowledge is Power, Found in the Most Peculiar Places:
There is a lot of wisdom to be found in public bathrooms, and not all of it is written on the walls. Some of the more memorable lessons I’ve learned in the most necessary of rooms are as follows: a) Life sometimes stinks b) Still waters often run deep c) God sometimes opens a window (or at least provides paper towels) so that you don’t have to touch a doorknob. Keep an eye out in there, without actually looking around. Which reminds me of one more lesson from the John: Don’t judge. (That one I learned standing at urinals.)
Buildings can be scary and confusing. Having lived in a small mountain town for the past two years, you may have forgotten that some irresponsible architects design buildings that reach high into the sky, as high as four (or even five) stories! Doesn’t anyone read the Bible anymore? God did not intend for us to walk around in the sky like he does, people! Be wise; don’t enter a skyscraper without a map, a purpose, and the foil hat that I slipped into your suitcase before you left.
Expectations vs. Reality vs. Patience:
From time to time you will need to preserve food in the form of leftovers, because breeding fungi and spores in your fridge is an American privilege. When prepping this mold-destined food for containment, plastic wrap is not the way to go. The cutting edge on the plastic wrap box will never be on the side that you need it to be, and so you will have to let go of the plastic that you have pulled off the roll, in order to spin the box around and make a cut. This action causes the plastic wrap to cling to itself. This is dangerous, because a vein in your head might burst while you are trying to unstick the plastic wrap from itself. Seriously, stay away from that clear and shiny killer! The atmosphere is probably layered in cling wrap that has been thrown into the sky with frustrated damnation; maybe NASA should send up a probe and look into that as a cause for climate change. Anyway, when storing leftovers use containers with lids, they are easier on your health, and the lids make good throwing stars should those pesky kitchen ninjas attack.
Nutrition and Modern Tradition:
Fresh and non-moldy food is important, you need it to live. Remember that the more you eat, the fatter you may get, unless you eat outside wearing a muscle shirt and running in circles to create a whirlpool of sweat. Some people also say that fruit and vegetables have some nutritional value, but I’m waiting for more evidence before taking that risk on a grand scale. For now, just to be safe, do what I do and only eat nature’s flavorless trash raw and unwashed, under the light of a full moon. I can tell you that water is important, and that you can drink it anywhere and anytime without the risk of weight gain, in spite of what some girls will tell you about “water weight.”
Ego and a Healthy Interest in Others:
You will soon discover that people say many things that aren’t worth the oxygen expelled in the process. As I listen to the world around me yammer on, there are loads of more interesting thoughts piling up inside my head. Important, beneficial-to-the-universe type thoughts. I would like to just talk over everyone, but your mother tells me that would be rude (whatever!). I have mastered the art of the feigned look of interest, and you should too. As a master of facial feigning, you will never have to waste time actually listening while someone is sharing every detail of their “fascinating” dream from the night before, or vomiting up useless information about their “fabulous” week in the Poconos. No, as a master, you can look interested on the outside, while inside you are wondering how long of a drive it would take for an entire bale of hay to blow off the back of a farmer’s pickup truck, piece by piece.
Cuts, Bruises, and Broken Things:
Candy fixes everything. Carry an emergency revival-by-candy kit with you at all times, and don’t be afraid to work miracles with it. God gave us candy not only to mend wounds, cure disease, and stop bleeding, but to heal the world. If politicians, religious leaders, and dysfunctional families would sit down together around big round tables piled high with candy, war and strife would fade into distant memory, leaving peace and prosperity to coat the earth like chocolate and caramel over nougat. Dip your life in candy and be blessed among men.
In addition to all of the above, remember the following, in no particular order:
-the world is a crazy, beautiful, emotional place
-not all people suck
-when you don’t know where you’re going, you just go!
-aliens from the Pleiades cluster are watching over you
-if it’s raining and you aren't outside jumping in puddles, you’d better be inside watching a movie
-all politicians lie, without exception
-don’t eat the toilet mint
-you've got to be you, because no one else can
-Hannah and Solomon (you know, your siblings?)
-never underestimate the power of a fake British accent in desperate situations
-don’t forget to road trip
-some of your strongest moments will be those when you are driven to your knees
-suitcase full of pistols and money!
-don’t be liberal, don’t be conservative, don’t even sit in the middle; labels kill independent thought
-you're never alone
-Mom and I love you
-you've got this
A Mother’s Post Script:
When you were four years old, your mother discovered that a song from Tarzan represented everything she felt about her little boy. The lyrics and upbeat music combined to encapsulate all the hopes, dreams, faith, and love that she held in her heart for you. As you well know, she still loves to watch this movie with you, and I imagine that it will be her go-to movie when she is missing you and needs a boost.
Caleb, there will be some rough moments ahead, moments that will send you sprawling. You‘ll land on your face, bruise your knees, and burn some skin as you skid across the ground. You may feel as though you can’t get up, and you may consider staying put, broken down and defeated in the dirt of life. In those moments, remember this song, and remember the little boy that you once were, riding in the back seat of his mother’s car as she sang it with you over and over again. In those moments, remember that you are now the man she knew you’d become.