Op-Ed

Cheers to a life following the heart over the head

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Another year has flown by, faster than the last. I want to slow Life down, but at the same time I look forward to the turning of the page, the new chapter that is a new year.

A time for fresh choices and looking forward with optimism that this year will be different in this or that way, or better yet, that I will be different in a new and better way. Don’t we all have our resolutions for change, whether declared out loud or quietly held?

I look at the calendar as it approaches 2019 and I’m bemused. I am old I guess. Yet the child within me is so very present and alive. I am grateful I never lost her — or if I did for a time, that I found her again.

She thinks it’s funny when I tell her we are old. When did that happen? She lives in the day. But I know — my adult knows — that we can’t entirely live as if there were no tomorrow.

The view looking back over the decades is a bit like looking at a fascinating tapestry, one of my own making. It is not as yet finished but patterns are evident, with unmistakable preferences and choices in colors and desired effects.

I see my child’s happy innocence, my teenager’s confidence and grand plans, my young adult’s disappointment and pain, my adult’s ambivalent maturation and compulsiveness, and my aging self’s quest for the peace found in joy and wisdom.

I see also a randomness laced with adventures suggesting lack of forethought, an impulsivity that adds to its rather wild, vivid beauty and form.

I can see my father smiling and wondering at the many twists and turns, saying as he would, “have you lost your head?” Well, maybe so on occasion. Countless turning points and crossroads where my head lost to my heart. Decisions made that “just felt right.” Intuition over reason. Cause for smiling, not wincing, at outcomes and unintended consequences. Cause for celebration of shutting out the noise, the opinions, the plentiful reasons “why not.”

My head, the practical voice, has lost many important arguments to my heart’s quiet whisper. Where does wisdom live? Surely there is a balance between the two, but I cannot pretend to have found it.

I observe earnest, sensible people living far more carefully and seriously, setting life stage goals, working hard, building and participating in community. Achieving “security” is an understandable, worthy goal, but if it means a fear-based life after — always seeking the elusive future “enough” — then it’s not for me. Engaging in too much future worry and planning can make for an anxious, unhappy, and static present.

Surely many people die with stubborn regrets. Regret is a cruel companion; so when one sneaks up on me, I feel it’s intrusive reach. I try to look it squarely in the eye and ascertain the hard lesson it brings, or simply notice some lingering grief for what could have been but wasn’t to be. So many decision points in our life are critical ones though we may not know it at the time, crossroads that determine the course of our life.

Regret can hang around, so when it shows itself I tell it “you may go away now, for that is past and I choose to be happy and grateful in and for the here and now.” I re-engage my feet and wheel in a forward moving direction, hopefully leave the nagging thoughts in the dust.

When it’s time to leave this world, I hope to have peace looking back, feel good about my contribution, and be able to say I held life lightly, lovingly, and at my best, reverently.

My attempt to live as fearlessly as possible, trusting Life, trusting my heart, has brought hard and beautiful lessons. To the critical eye, fearless living is reckless living, lacking in sensibility. Maybe so, but for me doing the nonsensical sometimes because my heart said “Yes!” seems in many cases to have ultimately made perfect sense. 

Jo Ann Towle of Lexington is a certified family interventist dealing with addiction treatment.

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