From this vantage point, thinking back in time, there is so much I wish I had known and, at the same time, so much I'm glad that I didn't know.
What do I wish I had known?
There's the small stuff:
- that Apple and Microsoft would be good investments at some future date.
- that it might be wise to put my sparse money into a California home when you could still buy a nice house for less than the price of today's average sedan - before all those bubbles
- the miracle of compounding interest and the wisdom of saving for retirement that all but eluded me in my clueless (and tight budgeted) youth.
And then there's the more important stuff:
- that my body would never be so healthy or so slim or pain-free, that I should appreciate its youthful strength and beauty instead of wasting time focusing on fat and flaws
- how important and life-affirming it was to appreciate all the love in my life at the moment -- from family and from friends -- instead of focusing so narrowly on finding just the right man.
- I wish I had been more watchful, more sensitive and more aware. I wish I had realized that there are many small and subtle blessings in our lives that are so easy to overlook when we're young and careless with time and with people.
I'm glad I didn't know -- as I kvetched and felt occasionally tortured by my work schedule -- that my first job -- as an editor at 'TEEN Magazine -- would be, hands down, the best job I would ever have.
It wasn't just the excitement of monthly publication, the fan mail or the travel opportunities. It was the daily companionship of so many good souls. The staff was full of so many other bright, ambitious and talented young women on the cusp of a new era in women's lives. Some became very special friends then and have remained close through all the years since.
And there was the encouragement of a special man -- Bob MacLeod, 'TEEN's publisher. He was a unforgettable character who was famous as an All-American football hero from Dartmouth, a pilot in combat in World War II and a magazine industry veteran who had been at the helm of several famous national magazines. It was his yearning to get out of New York and to live the rest of his life on the beach in Malibu that brought him to 'TEEN, one of the very few national magazines then published out of Los Angeles. In my foolish youth, I thought he was weird and a total male chauvinist pig-- a popular catch phrase in the day. I so took for granted the blessing of his constant encouragement, his delighted memos about articles I had written and ways he had seen me grow in my years there, his gift of near complete artistic freedom (which, in two cases, meant his facing down major advertisers who took issue with the frankness of some of my sexuality articles). Fortunately, I had a chance to thank him many years later and he was wonderfully gracious.
Silly me. I thought all jobs would be like that. I imagined some might even be better. I'm so glad, at that vantage point, that I didn't know the hardships and heartbreaks ahead.
I'm glad I didn't know on that day, as she celebrated graduation with me, that my dear college friend Marie Traina (pictured above), with whom I loved to sing and who so loved my bizarre family stories, would never live to be thirty, that her husband who had seemed so charming and congenial, would brutally murder her as she slept just weeks before her 29th birthday.
I'm glad I didn't know -- at a time when I thought 120 was bordering on obesity -- just how fat I would get in midlife, topping out at 258 pounds in 1999.
I'm glad I didn't know how soon I would lose so many people I loved -- even on the brink of losing them. My last lunch with my newly widowed mother -- listening to her talk about old boyfriends and the allure of an affair if she could just get her weight where she wanted it -- was much more enjoyable in its ordinariness than it would have been if I had known I would never see her alive again. My last memory is of a woman quite vibrantly alive.
And yet....I wish I had known to savor those moments, those people, to judge less and embrace more.
Like many of the parents and families around us at Ryan's recent graduation, I found myself dabbing tears as Ryan and his classmates cheered. These were tears of joy for all he -- and they -- have accomplished against some quite daunting odds. These were tears prompted by their hopefulness, their vulnerabilities and the prospect of so many triumphs and tragedies to come. They can't know what's ahead -- any more than we did. But, oh, how I wish Ryan and his classmates the wisdom to savor, to celebrate, and to embrace all of the experiences and the tough and the joyous times to come and the whole spectrum of love in their lives.