“What Would Bernie Do?”
The Bernie Series, Part I
When I was a little girl, my mom made a friend in nursing school named Bernie. She and my mother became fast friends. Her children were the same age as my sister and me, so we all grew up together. As a teenager, I learned Bernie has a powerful wisdom about the world no one else I knew had. Her understanding of: how things are, how one should behave, and how to make it in a difficult world inspires me still. When I’m unsure how to handle a situation, I ask myself, “What would Bernie do?” When I respect the wisdom, I enjoy favorable outcomes, when I don’t I learn something the hard way.
Bernie was born in Ireland and raised in London in post World War II poverty typical of the times. Sunday is her birthday, so I’ll run a piece about her eventful birth then. When Bernie was a young woman, she came to the States to be a nanny in Chicago. Next she moved to Los Angles, where she earned a degree in psychology, got married, and had two children. She moved around for many years because of her husband’s job. She decided to become a nurse because it’s a job one can do anywhere.
Since I’ve known her, she’s worked, raised kids, and retired. I’m lucky enough to lunch with her, when I can get a refill on common sense and her good company. Recently, I met with her at an Olive Garden and she told me about getting old, and how it is really a blessing.
The following are valuable pieces of advice she’s shared with me over the years:
- “Getting old is a good thing.” Bernie explained that it is indeed a great experience to get old. She said after menopause, biological drive no longer fills one’s thoughts, and the mind becomes clear and logical. She can see plainly how things will work out because it’s happened before. This sounds comforting to me, and fascinating, too.
- “Never give yourself completely to a man. Always save something for yourself.” She told me this several times when I was younger, and picking out a mate. As a married woman, it’s been the single most important bit of wisdom anyone has shared with me. Keeping something of myself back, sacred and secret, has enabled me to overcome seemingly irreconcilable differences with my spouse with confidence. I’ll always be okay no matter what happens in marriage because there is a seed of self untouched by anyone else.
- “Is it French?” When in doubt how to dress, look to the French for style. Naturalistic and classic, one can’t go wrong taking tips from the French. When I’m feeling dowdy, I rent a French flick and figure out how I can get back to that easy elegance.
- “Romance is for the young.” Bernie instructs young women to have romances and enjoy being gorgeous and sexy. And then let it go. I know many women reading this may argue romance can be for anyone at any age, and I agree it’s possible. But for women like us, there is a time and place for everything, and it’s okay to let some things go and embrace others. Hormone replacement and boner pills can give the false impression of immortality: but it’s a fantasy. Aging is a precursor to death, and that’s what makes this experience infinitely valuable. Our bodies stop making hormones by the gallons because there is other work in old age besides sex. When our contribution ceases to be breeding, it’s natural for sex drive to drop off.
- “Live in the times you’re born into.” Recently, Bernie said this to me. I think I was wringing my hands in worry about my carbon footprint or something. Indeed, we are born into this world at a certain time and place, and it’s up to us to make the best of it; but we can’t change it. Change comes slowly from decisions made over generations. We can make the best decisions possible for where we are in history. And then let it go.
- “Not your problem.” Bernie has incredibly good boundaries. I attribute this to her being British originally. Americans seems to have an addiction to enmeshment. A fevered obsession with each other is unhealthy. Allowing each other to make mistakes, and not get drawn into subsequent drama, is a peaceful way to be. “Not my problem,” doesn’t mean one doesn’t care, it’s simply an acknowledgement there’s nothing to be done about it on this end.
- “Don’t waste money on coffee.” This reflects an underpinning of frugality Bernie is famous for. I’ll get into that in a subsequent post about how to survive being poor. Bernie really believes Starbucks is a rip off. It is. $3 for a small coffee is extravagant. This is not a bit of wisdom I’m able to abide, as I’ve dropped thousands of dollars on coffee over the last twenty years of caffeine addiction. There were definitely better ways to spend that cash. Bernie advises if one is out shopping and needs coffee, get it at McDonald’s. It’s cheap and good enough.