I’m not sure what makes a quote great. I think it can be the delivery, the message, the timing, who says it, or the simple beauty of how the words are arranged. Here are 5 things that people have said to me at some point in my life and the story behind those moments.
1. “Never let anyone break your heart.”
It’s an incredibly simple phrase, I know, and perhaps, we all know it to be true, but how many times do we forget this wisdom?
I was on vacation with a new friend who wanted more of a relationship than I wanted. I had just had, what I thought to call, “my heart broken” by someone else. The friend I was with ended up screaming and yelling at me one evening for about two hours that I hadn’t given him a fair shot. (I’ll spare you the gory details). So there I was…trapped in a tiny cottage, crying my eyes out, not knowing how to get him to stop yelling, and worrying he’d wake up the old couple who were lodging next door. Thankfully, in the morning he took off, taking the rental car with him. As I sat puffy-eyed, car-less, and drinking a coffee on the patio, the old woman next door came over. She gave me that look that wise old grandmothers give you and then she said, “Can I give you some advice, my dear?”
She had fled Egypt with her husband when Nasser took over and was rounding up aviation engineers, which her husband had worked as at the time. She moved to Greece and, now, in her old age, was worried about the care of her invalid son and who would take care of him when she was gone. She had seen enough of the world and life that I would gladly listen to whatever she wanted to tell me, even if it was about the weather, so as to her offer, I said, “Of course.”
In her broken English, a beautiful lilt like a singing voice with firm tenderness, she said as though it were a demand, “Never let anyone break your heart.”
It was exactly what I needed to hear. We let people break our hearts. They don’t break them–we do. I listened to her and have not allowed anyone to hurt me so much ever since that day. Thank you, Angie.
2.”I want to party with you, cowgirl!”
I was sick as a dog and had just reported for some job-related training. I was happy to have one of those days away from the office, out of uniform, and so had worn my most comfy blue jeans and my cowboy boots. I live in a rural area and while cowboy boots aren’t that popular here, they’re acceptable, however, I was the only one wearing any that day. The instructor, a 911 dispatcher trainer from New York, asked if anyone in the class was a veteran, to which a few of us raised our hands. He then asked what each of us did, while in our military service.
When it was my turn, I mumbled that I had been an interrogator (People always have the most astounded reactions upon hearing this, to which I have yet to learn how to react). The instructor, a quirky, energetic guy, took a step back, his eyes rounded, pointed at me and yelled in a boisterous voice, “Whoa! I wanna’ party with you, cowgirl!” Everyone in the class burst out laughing while I felt like sliding down in my seat to disappear.
To me, this “quote” means everyone will interpret things differently and we all unwittingly make judgements about people from the second we see them. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it; it’s a defense mechanism. I do it all the time, but I remember, “I want to party with you, cowgirl!”, and then make sure to try and hold-off my assessment and let myself get to know the person before I assume things like, they’re a cowgirl, and they’d be cool to party with!
3.”Don’t ever feel sorry for yourself because life isn’t easy and it only gets more difficult the older you get. No matter how bad you think you’ve got it, someone else always has it worse.” -my mother
This was something my mother constantly told me while I was growing up and I loathed hearing it. It seemed she never had the sympathy I needed when I came looking for it. Even when I didn’t think I was looking for sympathy or feeling sorry for myself, she continued to say it when I was going through something unpleasant. This was from a woman whom I’d seen get kicked by cattle and come up swinging. A woman who beat cancer, had two hip replacements, back surgery, and who bore the usual life losses that we all do. I felt she set the bar too high because I knew I would never come close to equaling her freakish physical and emotional strength. Now, in my mid-thirties, I am incredibly grateful that she pounded this wisdom into me.
I would do myself no favors, if I stopped for self-pity. I know there are philosophical and psychological terms for this train of thought, but to my simple country bumpkin education all it means to me is that the only people who truly hold us back in life are ourselves. If you ask me, it’s absolutely true. And, guaranteed, there is always someone else who has it worse.
In a world where social media allows an outlet for the most mundane thoughts to be broadcast, I feel we’ve been led down an addictive path to publically whine about our problems and wallow in our self-pity. America used to be a place where it was about what could we do for our country and now it’s about what can our country do for us? I can’t say anymore on this. It’s as simple as Mom put it, “Don’t ever feel sorry for yourself. Someone else always has it worse.” If you stop for self-pity, you alone kill your personal progress.
4.”All of these men are your brothers, the good and the bad. And the world depends upon the good to make it right.”
I was in a pre-deployment training exercise in 2007 with interpreters who were all immigrants from Iraq. On a coffee break, two interpreters discussed sectarian violence and the resulting radicalism that had burdened their former homeland. One of the interpreters said that nothing could be done to stop the spread of radicalism because there was an entire generation of people in Iraq who had taught their children to hate those from opposing sects of Islam. Another interpreter, a man in his forties, adamantly disagreed and told us something his father told him when he was a boy, growing up in Iraq.
First, the man said that he was a Muslim and had never been taught to hate anyone because of their religious beliefs and he had grown up in the same era and same place as the radicalists who were currently in Iraq. He said his father always told him, “There are good and bad people in the world. All of these men are your brothers, both the good and the bad. The good can never give up because the world depends upon the good to make it right.”
The man said he did not want to fight, but that he understood that he had to because we have to let “bad” people know what they are doing is wrong and will not be tolerated. “The good” have to set the example.
This reminds me of the old western films where there was a good cowboy and a bad cowboy or gunslinger. The good guy, the one for peace and freedom, always wore the white hat. The bad guy, who wanted to fulfill his own needs at any cost, always wore the black hat. We always have two choices in life. We just have to pick which hat we want to wear. There is no gray hat. You either wear one or the other, no matter how difficult it may become. You can never falter. Being good isn’t easy. Wearing the white hat sucks, but the world needs everyone to wear a white hat or we’re all screwed.
The man said he asked his father, “What do you mean they’re all my brothers? How can these men who kill innocent people be my brothers?”
As a former interrogator, I learned how to allow my “enemy” to keep his dignity. Some people may not understand this or will assume I was soft on a harsh enemy. All I’m saying is that I’ve looked men in the eye who flat out told me that I “seemed like a nice person”, but if they were released they wouldn’t think twice about cutting my head off. I looked them in the eye…and listened. I listened to why they fought and to the things they valued in life–oddly and often enough, the same things as me–their families and their families’ future.
I probably never fully changed anyone’s mind about killing in the name of radical jihad, but those who realized because of me that maybe not all westerners were unholy assholes, only told me their “secrets” because they learned to respect me as a human being because I spoke to them like we were all brothers of this Earth. So…it’s not easy. Wear the white hat and do everything you can peacefully do to let your brothers who’ve gone down the wrong path know the black hat is not what the people of this world deserve. There will always be a percentage you can’t reach–a percentage who are wired or irreversibly trained for a life of violence. People who will always put you in their crosshairs because you’re black or white, Christian, Sunni, Shia, Jew, Hindu, Buddhist, gay or straight, rich or poor, democrat or republican, purple or green.
The world does depend upon the good. They depend upon them to be the most civilized and peaceful, but because of the methods of the bad, the world also depends upon the good to not be suckers or helpless sheep. Bad men force good men to do bad things. And good men don’t need the world to punish them for it, because the punishment of good men who’ve seen death is that they have to live with what the bad men have made them do to stop evil.
Wearing the white hat sucks, but if you don’t wear it, your hat is black. So as we used to say in the military, “Embrace the suck.”
5.”I’m on the right side of the dirt.”
A local man used to say this whenever I would greet him with, “How are you?” The first time I heard it, my reaction was that it was a bit over-the-top because of how uncommon a response it was to the common question. However, I soon came to appreciate his message and respected him for giving the reply. He was constantly thankful that he was not in a grave or “on the wrong side of the dirt”.
What if we all walked around remembering that because we are still alive, there is absolutely nothing to complain about in life?
Dying is a part of life and, in my opinion, not something to be feared. Death is a journey we will all make, a secret we will all learn. It will come to greet us all in time. However, I think we seldom fully appreciate the simple and complex gift of being alive.
Whatever you believe, whatever reason you think permits you to be here on this Earth, don’t forget that fascination that for some reason, in this moment, you are still allowed to be here. Do as much or as little with it as you will, but in the least, be thankful that you are alive. Not everything is anymore. And that, is the one of the few things that makes each of us worldly special, not money or fame.
Here’s a few honorable mentions:
“Never go to bed angry.”
“Women are only allowed in the military so that the men have someone to f@#k.”
“Neither science nor religion have ever indefinitely proven yet how or why we are here. So no one can rightfully defend any one purpose that we should serve during the tiny, tiny fragment of time that we are here on Earth. So it makes just as much sense that our sole purpose while we’re alive is not to accomplish some grand thing like seeking space travel, but perhaps just to live simplistic and peaceful lives without all of the necessities and advancements we see as our achievements as mankind. It would certainly be the best thing for our world, considering what we’ve already done to it.”