Life Lessons at One-Third

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Sixty-eight years from now, I will be one hundred and two. It’s a mind-bending thought to wonder about the future me and the many insights, trials, prayers, and joys I will encounter. Today I am turning thirty-four, a mere one-third of this potential experience, and it’s already proved a richly enlivened and inspiring journey of three decades. What marvels, revelations, discoveries, and conversations will illuminate the days and chapters ahead?

When I moved to New York City in 2002 — twelve years ago — I never expected to still be here, much less married to an extraordinary woman, with a wonderful son, a fruitful career, inspiring friends, and a peaceful backyard. At the time, I took a cue from Jason Kottke, a writer that I respect and follow, who kept a brief list of yearly milestones on his blog. I started a list of my own, tracking the varied parables played out through my teens and twenties. (“There’s always something new to discover, and if you pay attention you end up learning every day. Here is a list of some highlights of those discoveries.”) While anything but comprehensive or summative of the passing year, each lesson held in it a gem of wisdom and guidance that fundamentally changed the course of my life in some way, big or small. As I squeezed the juice out of life, increasingly filled with adventures, relationships, and deliverables, my focus on the list waned as other priorities took precedence.

I’ve decided to give the list a renewed look: thinking across the vast sweep of deep time in my life, swirling galaxies of ideas, and cavernous memories to locate the points of light that connect each glistening constellation sewn lovingly together into these recent years of our Lord. Bountiful seasons that rise and fall, waves of emotion and symphonic arias that ebb and flow, joyous and sorrowful occasions that unfurl like an Chinese landscape painting, moment by unfettered moment.

1980 — Open your eyes, take a deep breath, hold that head up, and you’ll do just fine.

1981 — Get up on those two feet and start exploring: there’s an entire world of discovery out there!

1982 — My extended family (Grover, Scooter, and Mister Rogers) helped me embrace the idea that anything is possible, a lesson that’s brought to you by the letter B and the number 8.

1983 — The opening sequence of the tv show M*A*S*H features just the right amount of theme song to run down the hallway from your room to watch the helicopters landing in the title sequence. But then it’s all boring grownups talking after that, so you might as well go back and play.

1984 — You might not be convinced at the time, but gaining a baby brother is pretty awesome. Plus you get to boss him around (at least until he learns how to tackle you).

1985 — When playing kitchen in the summer garden, it’s best to avoid picking the hot peppers, opening them up to take out the seeds, and then rubbing your eyes.

1986 — Walt Disney World is truly the most magical place, especially when your grandparents are by your side.

1987 — A homemade swing hanging from the tallest tree on a steep hill overlooking the mountains is the only way to truly soar.

1988 — When you want to grow up to be an astronaut, all it takes is a cardboard box, electrical tape, markers, pipe cleaners, and an outstretched imagination. (Thanks Mom!)

1989 — That brand new glowing screen in front of you is a window into a world of possibility: the connected library, a trip to Oregon, and the universe of Mario and Luigi.

1990 — Be spontaneous: you never know when a Tchaikovsky movement will inspire a dream sequence about the eruption of Mount Vesuvius.

1991 — Shel Silverstein poems have the uncanny ability to get stuck in your head.

1992 — You can go overboard on a project all you want, but if you don’t play by the rules, you’re gonna get burned.

1993 — Puberty is an awful time that you just have to endure and hope it never, ever comes back. Until you have kids of your own.

1994 — Opening windows in your house does not equalize the pressure in your house during a tornado. WIth winds of 100-200 mph and pressures this low, you’re best bet is to forget the windows and get to shelter.

1995 — The best way to write a paper: Tell them what you’re gonna tell them. Then you tell them. Then you tell them what you told them. (Thanks Dad!)

1996 — Not everything is black and white. In fact, most things are actually gray.

1997 — College applications don’t simply fill themselves out.

1998 — It is possible to happen upon a new passion completely by surprise. The story and symphony under our feet is amazing.

1999 — Student government is frighteningly more volatile and politically-charged than state or federal government.

2000 — Balance is vital in all aspects of life. Something tells me this one’s going to be reoccuring.

2001 — You can sleep when you die.

2002 — Credit cards are a necessary and unfortunate part of the economic ecosystem. Stay out of debt and read between the lines to avoid getting taken advantage of by their marketing tactics.

2003 — Change happens. It’s a fact that’s hightened in a big city where the variables are more chaotic. Go with the flow. Don’t constantly attempt to swim the other direction, or the city will spit you out, disheartened and burned out.

2004 — “You can sleep when you die” works when you’re in college or not holding a full-time job.

2005 — For then shalt thou have thy delight in the Almighty, and shalt lift up thy face unto God (Book of Job, Chapter 22).

2006 — Life is rich and rejuvenating when you spend it outdoors.

2007 — It’s not that we live in a small world… it’s just that we have a really big God.

2008 — Portuguese is one of the world’s most beautiful languages. Bom dia, meu amor!

2009 — Love is a many-splendored thing, it’s the April rose that only grows in the early spring. Love is nature’s way of giving a reason to be living, the golden crown that makes a man a king. Once on a high and windy hill, in the morning mist two lovers kissed and the world stood still, then your fingers touched my silent heart and taught it how to sing. Yes, true love’s a many-splendored thing.

2010 — Intentional friendships start at the intersection of responsibility and love. To borrow from Donald Miller: “you become like the people you hang around… a meaningful life doesn’t happen by accident.”

2011 — Community is the lifeblood that knit together my marriage to Elisa, rallying around the truth of our story, serving us with tireless happy hearts, and dancing with mirth and zeal, even when the vaulted ceilings of stone and cloud threaten to crumble and open up with rain.

2012 — A brother is a precious gift. He is beside you through it all. It takes hard work, determination, grit, and grace to maintain that bond, but it’s worth every ounce of effort and love.

2013 — Pushing the boundaries of what’s possible in the universe takes courage, strength, stamina, trust, and a generous dose of patience. The resulting destination is, in fact, a masterwork of perspective that holds in it the ability to change the world for the better.

2014 — Currently in progress. You can very well expect this life lesson to revolve around a new center of light: my young Benjamin Page.

Armistead Booker

Brooklyn, NY

I’m a visual storyteller, nonprofit champion, moonlighting superhero, proud father, and a great listener.