We’re having a little gathering tonight. Not a big bash. God, no. That would entail too much housecleaning, though to hear my teenage son griping, you’d think the little we’re doing is monumental. He is sure that his day has already been insurmountably,inconsolably ruined.

But, as I reminded my husband, to be sixteen is to be in a certain frame of mind that is almost impossible for anyone who isn’t sixteen to understand. I only have glimpses, because I can still sort of remember what it was like to be that age.

We had set out on a walk through our local cemetery, which is very beautiful, with open rolling hills and two streams running through. There is a lonely old chapel sitting on a hilltop and poignant old monuments clustered under old pines. Jon made a sweet little video of a walking tour through this special place a few years ago. Yesterday when we walked there, he showed me the latest in a series of little American flags, stolen from veterans’ grave by squirrels for their nests, this one high in a pine tree near the entrance.

I reminded my husband (who tends to more impatient with Doug than I am, not that I am that patient) what it was like to be sixteen. And pointed out to him that some of those traits are the very same ones that are at the bottom of our own dissatisfaction lately.

Entitlement. Resentment. Being self-absorbed. And unaware of how much negative energy we give off when we’re in that space.

A reader left comments on my blog, and because she said it so beautifully, I direct you to Gail Denton’s comments on my essay RESOLUTIONS. One sentence in particular leaped out at me:
“…Now, here’s the interesting part. I am starting to be grateful for my troubles. What a shock. But they are the things that change me, not my blessings…”

I love that sentence!

We want all the blessings, and none of the troubles. It seems so silly, so childish, so….sixteen. Yet there it is. When we get over ourselves, when we can get past being sixteen, we can feel the deep truth of what Gail says.

It’s not entirely our fault we get stuck thinking this way.

Our brains have been hard-wired over millions of years to prepare us for a very different world than the one we find ourselves in today.

Unless we’re careful, we eat too much at the drop of a hat. Because once food was not always readily available, and we are hard-wired to constantly prepare for once-real threat of starvation.

We are hard-wired to seek the new, the novel and the different. It keeps us curious and eager to try new things and helps us explore and wonder and question and achieve. But it also drives us to buy too many things that only keep us happy for a short while.

We seek security and shelter, which is necessary to survive. But it also means we “play it safe”. It keeps us shut down in what we know, prevents us from taking chances, and closes our minds to new possibilities.

We find it easier to focus on the bad times rather than the good for neurological reasons. We forget the blessings we have, and focus on our lack.

We live in our own heads and find it truly hard to see things from others’ point of view, because….well, that’s where we live: In our heads. If we get glimpse of the world from someone else’s hard-wired little monkey brain from time to time, if we have that insight and can see a bigger picture, a way to forgive, a way love and be joyful in spite of our own issues, aches, agendas, well, that’s a small miracle.

When I first started realizing our built-in programming, this “lizard brain”, this sixteen brain, was so dominant in my thinking, I was discouraged. But then, I realized it helps to understand where some of this is coming from.

And realizing I can choose differently, if only for a few precious moments each day, is empowering.

We can’t completely overcome that programming. But we can take little vacations from it from time to time. Like having some really great friends over tonight. Like walking with my husband on a beautiful day. And realizing we may all be in the same boat, if only because it means I may not be the only one who’s crazy around here.

As we walked, we both noted that part of our discontent has been with all the things we think should be happening for us (because we work so very, very hard for them) and aren’t. “I bet if we stopped and really thought about all the incredible things other people have done for us,” I said, “we’d realize how rich we really are.” And Jon agreed, and immediately mentioned some people who have done huge things for him in his career.

Our son is hugely hampered by being sixteen right now. He really can’t help how he’s feeling and how he chooses to deal with that. Life looks very different to him, and it’s impossible for him to stand outside himself and see what we see. With luck and time, he will grow up and into himself, and he will learn how much choice he really has, and how to exercise it wisely.

And with time, he will learn what we all learn eventually. That many of those “terrible things”, with a little insight or hindsight, aren’t really so terrible. That many of them are blessings in disguise. Or, if they truly are terrible, they are also something we really can get through, with help from loved ones, time, and the kindness of strangers. Oh, and highly-trained professionals and appropriate amounts of alcohol.

And somewhere in the middle, as Gail says, perhaps we can see them as just little opportunities to shape us into better people.

It’s a blessing to not be sixteen anymore. And it’s a blessing to understand that, in a way, we will always a little bit “sixteen”.

Author: Luann Udell

I find it just as important to write about my art as to make it. I am fascinated by stories. You can tell when people are speaking their truth--their eyes light up, their voices become strong, their entire body posture becomes powerful and upright. I love it when people get to this place in their work, their relationships, their art. As I work from this powerful place in MY heart, I share this process with others--so they have a strong place to stand, too. Because the world needs our beautiful art. All of it we can make, as fast as we can! Whether it's a bowl, a painting, a song, a garden, a story, if it makes our world a better place, we need to do everything in our power to get it out there.

3 thoughts on “ON BEING (and NOT being) SIXTEEN”

  1. That is good! I like that about being sixteen. Here I’ve been kicking myself for being a five year old! Thanks for the kind words you wrote about my comments.

    But you have brought up an idea I have often thought about–the whole idea of growing up. When asked as a teen what I wanted to be when I grew up I answered, “A grown up.” And, really, that’s the truth.

    Because grown ups are incredibly rare, I think you are proposing a very radical idea here. Have you ever known any? If we were to propose a list of grownups, who would you nominate?


  2. I sure enjoy reading your explorations. Thank you for your willingness to share yourself with us.

    I have been known to say “A kick in the seat of the pants is a step forward!”

    I am incredibly grateful for many of the most terrible things that have happened to me. They have kicked me out of the comfortable and into the incredible.

    It is a long series of bad things that happened to both my husband and I that led us to a wonderful life as artists.

    I have a wind chime outside the door into our studio. I call it my blessings chime. When ever I go in or out, I reach up and run my fingers through the little pipes to make it chime. And when it does, I think or say some way that I am blessed. It is a centering activity that just takes a few seconds each time but by the end of the day I have sent out a blessing many times.

    Gail, I have had conversations with 2 different people in less than 24 hours about how no one is will to be a grown-up anymore.



  3. When I was a small stubborn child, before kindergarten age, I remember my mother saying to me “The world does not revolve around you, Miss Linda Rosanne Moore”. I guess this has been my best reality check for the past 50 or so years, although many of those years were spent behaving as if I were 16 off and on. Like you said, it helps to understand where some of this hard-wired behavior comes from (see Helen Fisher’s books!). And I know that for the rest of my life I will hear my mother’s voice helping me to keep on track.


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