“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.” — L. M. Montgomery
As I write this, I’m feeling sad and very tired. I’ve not been sleeping well lately, and it feels as if everything in my life is currently a source of some sort of worry. This evening, despite having many other things I needed to do, I went out for a walk for the first time in days.
The air was deliciously cool with that first taste of autumn. I didn’t experience the euphoric joy that often hits me at this season, but I did feel a sense of healing. Just being outside for a short time gave me a chance to step away, however briefly, from the many cares that have been weighing me down in recent weeks.
I’m still sad, tired and disappointed about a lot of things. But I still believe that happier times lie ahead, and October brings me a bit of enchantment to remind me that “this too shall pass.”
I hope you are enjoying lovely weather, whether it’s spring or fall in your neighborhood. I wish you the dazzling delights of flaming foliage and pumpkins and cider and all the excitement of the season. And if you, like me, are feeling a bit low right now, I hope October will fall gently over your sadness, giving you the comfort of peace, and joys that go deeper than sorrow.
“The land comes alive through its wild creatures.” — Charles Fergus
When I was employed by the Tennessee Department of Conservation, one of the foresters with whom I worked heard me say my fiancé was from Hickman County. “Hickman County?” he said. “They got more deer there than people!”
I had to agree with that. In the many years Jeff and I have been travelling together through the highways and byways of that lovely county, it seems that we always see at least one deer as we drive along, and often more than one. Though I hardly ever notice until Jeff points them out to me, I delight in seeing them. If you’re ever traveling on I-40 between Memphis and Nashville and want to see the home where Jeff grew up, take the Bucksnort exit (I am not making this up; it’s exit 152).
So, when we were visiting Hickman County a few days after Daddy’s memorial service in Georgia, I took my camera as I headed out for a late afternoon walk from his sister’s home. I was hoping to catch photos of at least a few of the ten wild turkeys I had counted as we drove down her street earlier that day.
“You might see a deer,” Jeff’s mother reminded me, and sure enough, I had not gone 500 feet down the street before I caught a flash of movement a short distance away. An enormous doe with a long, fluffy white tail had spotted me before I spotted her, and she trotted away from me, then turned to look back, curious yet sensing potential danger.
I stood very still and snapped this photo of her, then decided to walk slowly toward her in hopes I could get a bit closer. No such luck. The moment I took the first step in her direction, she bounded into the woods with that graceful speed that so impresses me.
I did see some of the turkeys, too. I even saw one of them take off and fly a short distance, but when I pointed my camera at them, they insisted on showing me only one angle.
More than any other season, autumn reminds me of the wildlife that become a bit more visible as they forage or browse among foliage that is already beginning to thin out. The weather grows cooler and it’s an ideal time to enjoy being outdoors. Why not take a stroll and watch with joy as the land comes alive?
“…it is not surprising that paradise is invariably imagined as a garden.”
— Mac Griswold
Autumn is upon us, with all its promise of splendor, but it’s not too late to bid a fond farewell to the green grass and vivid blooms of summer. I hope you are able to spend a few minutes this week taking in the warmth and sunshine in a large or small garden near you. Bask in the beauty of roses, begonias, mandevillas and hibiscus, and gather ideas for next spring. It will be here before we know it.
I don’t know about you, but I could use a little taste of paradise just now. Find a nice spot and point me in the right direction– I’ll bring the iced tea.
“Thanks to art, instead of seeing one world only, our own, we see that world multiply itself and we have at our disposal as many worlds as there are original artists…”
— Marcel Proust
How are you feeling today? I hope it’s a happy day for you, with agreeable weather and time to enjoy a few small pleasures. But you might be feeling a bit sad, or overwhelmed, or fed up with the world. Maybe this is one of those days that is so busy, you wonder how you will fit everything into your tight schedule.
In any case, I invite you add a spark of color to your day. Step out of your immediate surroundings for a moment or two, and enjoy visiting another world entirely — maybe several other worlds — through the vast riches of online art that are available with just a click or two. Whether you like pastoral landscapes or lively city scenes, portraits or still life studies, there is something for everyone in the many worlds made available to us by the lovingly crafted work of artists we have never met.
If you have a favorite painter, sculptor or photographer, or if you know the name of a work you admire, try a quick internet search for it. In most cases you’ll quickly find at least one digital reproduction of it to enjoy. If you can’t find it, let me know what you’re looking for, and I’ll try to help you. Or just take a virtual stroll through the Louvre, or the Hermitage, or the National Gallery of Art, or any of the countless museums and galleries available to explore online.
We are surrounded by so many pleasures, joys, obligations and responsibilities that it’s easy for art to get lost in the sea of urgent or obvious distractions. But even a few minutes of appreciative contemplation can provide a refreshing break. If you have a busy day today, set a timer and limit yourself to just five minutes. Feel free to share a link or two in the comments below, if you’d like to share your experiences with us. And if you happen to be an artist yourself, here’s your chance to introduce us to your work.
I wish you delightful discoveries!
In spite of my ceaseless flow of words, McCall Smith’s statement quoted above (as expressed in the thoughts of the winsome Mma. Ramotswe) is more true for me now than ever. As I write this, over a week has passed since my Daddy left behind his earthly existence, and my heart is overflowing with emotions it is unable to express.
There is sorrow, certainly, and a wistful longing for the ability to talk with Daddy, or get an email from him, or see one of his comments here at this blog, or be able, just one more time, to visit him and Mama together in their home. There are worries about how Mama will cope without him, as he was her constant caregiver during the past decade, and her husband, through good times and bad, for over 66 years.
But beyond the sorrow and worry, eclipsing all the painful feelings, is a deep sense of gratitude and wonder. Alongside my appreciation of the long and meaningful life Daddy lived, there is abundant joy and thankfulness for the love and support of friends and extended family. I am humbled and amazed at how the readers of this blog have become a living demonstration of one of Daddy’s greatest lessons to me: that the comforting presence of loved ones does not depend on geographic proximity, and friendship transcends earthly barriers.
Last night I read through some of the many cards that have been sent to me by readers of this blog. Each was unique and so full of the sender’s generous soul that it was almost like a quick visit with a dear friend who gave me a hug of reassurance that said “we are here for you, and we care.” Likewise, the many comments and emails, public and private, have been a constant source of support since Daddy died. In a very real sense, I was sustained by your prayers and warm wishes and expressions of consolation, and I am grateful to you all, more grateful than words can say.
Thus, as Mma. Ramotswe realized, my heart holds more than this post can possibly contain, so I will have to content myself with less. But I hope, especially in this case, that less will be enough. I’ve said it so many times that it may sound trite, but I tell you again from my heart: Thanks for being here.
“Our political institutions work remarkably well. They are designed to clang against each other. The noise is democracy at work.” — Michael Novak
When I first read that quote by Novak, I couldn’t help wondering when he said it, and whether he still feels that way. Everywhere I turn, I hear people complaining about the government. There’s a diversity of opinion about where the blame lies, but there is clear consensus about one thing: a lot needs fixing. If only we could agree on what, and how, and when.
Ah, but that’s really the argument that Novak is making, isn’t it? If there is a great deal of vocal disagreement, maybe that’s an indication that democracy is working. That we feel not only the urge but the freedom to complain; that we examine our leaders again and again in the court of public opinion; that we elect all sorts of representatives who themselves have a hard time reaching agreement — maybe these are healthy signs of government that truly aspires to be “of, by and for” an increasingly diverse people?
I’m not saying it’s right to show disrespect toward our leaders, or toward anyone else whose opinions offend us. I abhor hateful name-calling and gratuitous insults. But constructive criticism, incisive commentary and hilarious satire are all necessary components of a society ruled by a Constitution and a Bill of Rights.
If I could, I would find a way to banish all trolls from the internet; they pollute thoughtful discussions with vicious and often illogical attacks, acting ugly seemingly for the sake of ugliness. It makes me tend to shy away from the comment sections following any news story, particularly if the topic is controversial. It also makes me angry that we allow the lowest common denominator to hijack reasonable argument. Polite disagreement may sound like an oxymoron, but I believe it’s possible.
Meanwhile, with election talk already beginning to dominate the airwaves, let’s brace ourselves and get ready to see this nonstop and often irritating chatter as an inevitable by-product of the incalculable blessing of living in a free country. I invite you to join me in resolving two things: one, I will not let all the complaining and whining and hand-wringing cause me to lose sight of how many reasons we have to feel thankful; and two, I will not become part of the problem by venting my (often reasonable) frustrations in inflammatory speech or over-reactive anger at anyone who happens to disagree with me.
Let the clanging begin!
“I am very little inclined on any occasion to say anything unless I hope to produce some good by it.” – Abraham Lincoln
To borrow some famous words of Yogi Berra, Lincoln really didn’t say everything he said, but apparently he really said this. And WOW, what a quote. Just think how much better the world would be if EVERYONE followed this rule.
Assuming one doesn’t quibble over the question “good for whom?” (which might be used to justify anything that generates publicity or commercial profit) I think it’s safe to say that a huge percentage of thoughtless and harmful chatter would be promptly eliminated if we took this idea to heart.
Can you imagine how talk radio and news commentary would be transformed by this principle? But closer to home, how might it change our everyday conversations? I like to think most of what I say is at least harmless, but I’m a long way from meeting this standard myself.
I invite you to join me in an experiment this week. I’m going to try being more aware of how much of what I say (or write) can pass Lincoln’s test. For some of us, this will mean saying less; for others of us, it might mean saying MORE, in the form of compliments to those who need them, encouraging words to people who are struggling, and being unafraid to share positive ideas for practical improvements in places where we tend to feel silent disapproval for how things are.
If you were to adopt Lincoln’s policy regarding your own speech, would you end up saying less? Or more? Or the same amount, with a different focus? Share your ideas in the comments, and let’s hope to produce some good with what we say here.
Dear blog readers, our wonderful Daddy passed from this life earlier today. Here is a video I made for him on Father’s Day 2014, just a token of the tremendous place he holds in the hearts of his four children. There will be no posts this week. Thanks for understanding.
Update, Monday 12:15 a.m. — Thanks to all for your kind thoughts, prayers and comforting comments. Please be assured I am reading the comments and will respond to each one as soon as time allows. Your friendship and support mean more than I can say. Please pray for our Mama who is having a very hard time after losing her husband of more than 66 years. She has depended on his loving support for so long.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I learn by going where I have to go. — Theodore Roethke
I’ve never been fond of awakening from a nice dreamy sleep, and getting up (especially on cold, dark mornings) is not something I do well. I envy and wonder at Jeff’s ability to get up very early, usually without an alarm to wake him, and immediately start his day. Aside from his recent times in the hospital under sedation, I can’t remember a single time when he has shown any reluctance to get up in the morning.
This is the season when it starts to become most difficult, as the morning light wanes and we have to get up in the dark. When the cold sets in, it will be really brutal. But every day, along with millions of others who share my morning drowsiness, I somehow arise and go about my morning routine, my steps seemingly ahead of my brain much of the time.
Life is like that, isn’t it? A lot of what we learn, we learn simply by doing what we have to do and going where we must go, even if we start out in a bit of a fog. Whether we place ourselves in the hands of God, or look elsewhere for direction and reassurance, daily each of us must summon some measure of faith to keep moving into an uncertain future.
The present moment is deceptively familiar, yet totally unknown to us; our entire world can change in the blink of an eye. Little wonder the comforting nest of sleep is something many of us are slow to relinquish. But the day ahead calls to us, and we know it is often beautiful, sometimes amazingly so. With lingering yawns, we move forward.
“The most important decision you make is to be in a good mood.”― Voltaire
In the grand scheme of things, it might seem that Voltaire is exaggerating to describe a mere mood as being so important. After all, there are plenty of huge and life-changing decisions that are far less transient than how we feel on any particular day. But when you think about it, our moods have such a pervasive effect that it might not be too much of a stretch to say they have the potential to change almost everything.
A good mood is, in most circumstances, a choice we make. While there are burdens and sorrows that are too heavy to allow us to just “snap out of it,” I think that most of our daily irritations are relatively minor. Have you ever known someone who seemed to take everything in stride, smiling even when things don’t go well? People like that serve society well, because a good attitude is contagious. How different would the world be if everyone managed to keep a positive and sunny spirit through everyday frustrations?
Looking at the picture above, you would never guess that Ms. Ella, Raynard and Mary had just spent most of their day sitting in horrible traffic. But that’s exactly what had happened. After several planned meet-ups that fell through for one reason or another, we had finally found a day when it seemed we would be able to get together in Virginia Beach. My sister was in town from Alabama, and I was taking her for a late breakfast at the Belvedere. We figured our friends would arrive around lunch time, and Raynard had promised to bring me a freshly-baked cake that would be one of the three choices I gave him (chocolate, chocolate or chocolate, or if none of those worked out, chocolate). We all looked forward to meeting face-to-face for the first time after years of online friendship at Upper Room and this blog.
Though it was a Saturday, none of us guessed that the beach traffic would be so bad all the way from Delaware down to Virginia. I guess that’s always a risk when driving down the outer coast. To complicate things, I was using a new cell phone that I couldn’t figure out how to answer, so every time they called to give us an update, I ended up having to call them back because I didn’t know how to answer their calls. It seems funny to think about it now, but at the time it was driving me crazy to be unable to answer my own phone.
If you’ve been reading the comments here, you probably remember that Raynard is a cheerful type who can see the humor in almost any situation. That comes in handy if one is snarled in traffic. I don’t know about you, but there is hardly anything that can ruin my day more quickly. By the time they got to Virginia Beach, they didn’t have much time to do anything but grab a quick bite and turn around to head home. But the short time we had together was quite memorable, and we had that delicious cake as a take-home souvenir. It’s the first time someone has ever baked me a cake for their own birthday!
Matt, Carla and I all had a great time chatting with them, and their short visit was a note of cheer that lasted for days. Mary even figured out what I was doing wrong with my cell phone, and with her help, I’ve been able to answer calls ever since! Meeting all of them was certainly a high point of the summer for me.
Sometimes we might feel that there is not much we can do to change a world that is too full of sadness and nasty behaviors and outright tragedy. But if you are blessed to know someone with a sunny disposition, you know that they can take almost any situation and turn it around. I’d like to be that sort of person, wouldn’t you?
“Risk brings out the ingenuity and resourcefulness which ensure success.”
— Robert Rawls
“There are men climbing around in the top of your tree!” Darla reported with excitement when I answered the front door that morning. She knew the tree surgeons were coming to remove our giant oak that day, but the sight of them working in the lofty branches was still amazing to her.
“I’ve been afraid to look,” I confessed.
“DON’T! Don’t look!” Darla knows how nervous I can get.
Despite this good advice, a few hours later I could not resist stepping outside to see how things were going. Through our large back windows, I had seen HUGE branches lowered to the ground by the crane, so I figured they might be getting to a point where most of the tree was gone and it wouldn’t be terrifying to watch. Bad assumption on my part.
That tree was so tall that, even after the top part of it was gone, it was still dizzying to watch the climber walking around up there, attaching the crane before sawing the branches or trunk. It was so fascinating that I could not pull myself away — and in fact, true to form, I had to go for my camera. I’ve never been to the circus, but I can’t imagine it being more thrilling than this. I only wish I had photographed the whole thing from the beginning, when the tree still towered over all the others.
One thing that made it somewhat less frightening was the expertise and precision with which they went about the task. Clearly, these folks knew what they were doing. I had somehow imagined someone standing safely inside a cherry-picker sawing all the branches off, but I guess that doesn’t work when there are trunks that weigh several thousand pounds being removed (the heaviest piece they took that day weighed over 8000 pounds).
I felt tremendously grateful that there are people who make a career of knowing how to go about such momentous tasks. Ditto for construction workers who build skyscrapers, or first responders who tackle wildfires, or any number of valiant people who are willing to face the considerable risks inherent in keeping our world going.
Watching these tree professionals at work, I realized the truth of what Rawls says about ingenuity and resourcefulness. Whoever designed the tools and methods, as well as those who spent the many hours of practice it would take to get good at using them, displayed determined competence that benefits all of us. While their efficiency did not inspire me to learn tree work, it did encourage me to become better at what I have to do.
Risk is a part of everyone’s life, though the type and degree of it varies greatly. I’m a cautious person who is averse to taking chances of any kind. Because of this, risk can induce fearful procrastination on my part, or passive avoidance of situations that seem precarious. I need to remember that risk can be used as an incentive to sharpen my perception and get me moving, adjusting circumstances to improve the probability of success and decrease the likelihood of misfortune.
What risks are you dealing with right now? How can you transform uncertain situations, using them as assets rather than liabilities?
“The more I think it over, the more I feel that there is nothing more truly artistic than to love people.” — Vincent Van Gogh
Quick, think of your stereotype of an artist. Did you picture someone isolated, temperamental, aloof or demanding of perfection? Someone slightly out of touch with “normal” life? I have to admit, that’s what first comes to mind for me. But such typecasting can be inaccurate or unfair, and this is a good example.
It’s true that many artists often appear noticeably different, and by the very nature of their work, they must spend huge chunks of time in solitude. But perhaps our ideas of artists, and of what constitutes art, are too narrow.
Think of the joy that art brings to our lives. Think of the close observation that must be necessary for capturing that undefined quality in a piece that instantly resonates inside us with both familiarity and surprise. Dedicating one’s life to such diligence and attention is no small feat, and that’s not even considering the endless hours required to become proficient at rendering that vision into music, painting, dance or drama. It’s hard to imagine producing art without affection and benevolent intention, but if it can be done at all, work produced with contempt toward others is unlikely to live in people’s hearts the way great works have done throughout history.
Maybe more important, think of all the artists that surround you every day, and include yourself in that number. Most of us spend a good portion of our day helping, serving or otherwise interacting with people, directly or indirectly. Over time, we usually become fairly good at one or more of the things it takes to keep the world turning. It’s not that I would equate baking a cake, stitching a quilt or writing a letter with the masterpieces produced by those rare individuals with exceptional gifts. But artistry is a way of life that involves process more than product, and striving for artistry in daily living is a worthy goal.
We don’t have to be phenomenally talented to be creative and unique in what we do. Indeed, as Van Gogh implies, the more we love, the more likely we will approach even our mundane tasks with the same loyal diligence as the great masters applied to their creation. Could it be that artistry seems elite and unavailable to us simply because we mistakenly see it that way? Might it transform our results, as well as our moods, to approach our everyday tasks with enthusiasm and originality?
For those of us who revere God as the greatest Creator of all eternity, Van Gogh’s quote makes perfect sense, because “God is love.” Through that lens, the beauty of the natural world becomes a divine love letter, a daily reminder that God is present in our lives, and speaks with an eloquence that transcends our ability to fully understand. And our own yearning to create is a logical facet of being created in God’s image.
Artistry starts with paying attention. I’ve found that paying attention to people almost always changes how I see them, and even when it takes time and effort, I typically end up feeling more sympathy and affection for them than I do when I rush past them, too busy to see who they are.
Next time I feel really fed up with the details and detours that fill my days, I’m going to try to re-focus on the people for whom I am doing what I do, including myself. If Van Gogh is right about this — and I really believe he is — there will be more color in my hours; more beauty in the play of light and shadows.
Let’s think of today as our canvas. How can we paint our love into the endless large and small strokes it will take to finish this day well?
“The emotional energy created by the critical illness of a child is unlike anything else in a family. The medical situation devours much of the family’s life and leaves its mark on everyone involved: parents and siblings, grandparents and friends. Passions are generated, enormous resources are called upon, any moment can suddenly turn into a life-threatening crisis. Yet the child at the heart of all this, time and time again, is a vitally appealing human being who seems to concentrate and radiate the intensity around him in a powerfully sustaining way, as if it were a form of light.”
– Reeve Lindbergh
Some children face a formidable uphill battle from birth onward, and others are hit with a devastating diagnosis before their teenage years. Lindbergh’s quote, drawn from a book review of one father’s memoir, touches on several aspects of these crises. Her description sounds a bit overwhelming, but if anything, it is an understatement. There is nothing that changes family life more permanently than a child’s chronic serious illness.
Yet, as Lindbergh attests, there is something almost superhuman about the way many such children not only survive, but thrive. Sometimes they seem happier than their peers who have no such burdens. Perhaps the focused effort of so many who care — parents, siblings, therapists, educators, doctors, and friends — instills a deep sense of being loved that enables them to endure the physical and psychological pains that are inseparable from being challenged daily with obstacles most of us cannot imagine. Or perhaps they are blessed in unseen ways we will never see or know about.
Whatever the reasons for their inspiring psychological stamina and endearing smiles, I hope you are lucky enough to have at least one or two such children — or the adults they grew up to become — in your life. Please don’t assume that their stubbornly cheerful demeanor implies that they are free from loneliness or the need for human caring and everyday friendship. Quite the opposite, in fact.
One of the sadder aspects of living with such diagnoses is that, almost inevitably, most of the people in one’s life are paid to be there. While we all are profoundly grateful for those who choose careers in service to others, remember that the doctors, therapists, teachers and families get tired too. More importantly, we all long for connections that exist purely for the sake of relationship, separate and apart from our needs and challenges. Reaching out in friendship to a child or adult with chronic illness and/or disability might feel awkward at first, but you are likely to find them among the most appreciative, understanding and forgiving people you have ever known.
If you are experiencing difficult times and dark days, try going where the light shines. It’s sometimes brightest where you least expect it.
“I had a pathological nostalgia. I grieved not only for my own rapidly receding childhood but also for the years, ‘the pasts,’ that I would never experience. The past seemed as real to me as the present, as real as another country. But unlike another country, its borders were closed…pictures felt like the next best thing to time travel.” — Chris Wild
Illustrations, particularly photographs, are a natural complement to reading, or perhaps just another version of the same activity in a different dimension. When I read this quote, I understood my own “pathological nostalgia” as one reason for my enduring compulsion to take pictures. I’ve been creating conduits for time travel into my own personal past, having taken many such journeys into our collective past through the work of camera enthusiasts from Matthew Brady to Dorthea Lange to my own father.
One of my first and most compelling experiences on WordPress was reading about the history of a Canadian family at this interesting post which really tapped into my nostalgia for anyone and everyone’s past. Something about the photos and writing connected me to the writer, who (as anyone following this blog for awhile will know) has now become a dear friend. Her post title says it all for me: “We would have a lot in common.” I suppose that conviction is what draws me to the history of all sorts of people.
In childhood, biographies written for and about children were among my favorite books. Even in my early travels, I quickly sensed (or perhaps imagined) that historic sites retain some intangible remnant of what has passed there; traces of atmosphere redolent of previous decades, or sometimes even centuries.
I used to dream of time travel with three parts longing tempered by one part spellbound terror. On some level I knew that it would be frightening and dangerous to find myself in another era, but that didn’t stop me from wishing I could visit history in person.
My first vivid memory of wanting to transport myself back in time was on our family trip to Castillo de San Marcos in Florida. Something about that well-preserved fortress captured my imagination and made me feel as if I could almost hear the sounds of canon fire and soldiers speaking in rapid, urgent Spanish. But when I turned from gazing dreamily over the ramparts, there were my parents and siblings looking blandly contemporary, and the exotic sounds and images vanished.
Wild is correct: no matter how real the past might seem or really be, its borders remain closed to us in a physical sense. Yet thanks to digital images, we are able to get closer than ever before, as obscure photographs, drawings, journals and other ephemera from bygone days are scanned and made available in numbers that stagger the imagination. I smile to think that having such easy access to these abundant collections might seem as exotic and impossible to my great-grandparents as time travel is to us, and wonder whether those now-closed physical borders will ever be crossed by generations that come after us.
Until then, though, we travel on the wings of imagination, navigating with photographs, stories, historic preservation and that mysterious sixth sense that springs to life occasionally, when we stand in a place where others stood long before we were alive. Do you like to visit the past? If so, send postcards from your next imaginary journey — and maybe I’ll see you there sometime!
“There’s no question that labor-saving devices save labor. But they also manufacture labor. The washing machine and the dryer don’t save time if you end up doing more washing.” — Ruth Schwartz Cowan
Let’s talk about expectations. Is it my imagination, or do they mostly trend upward? Specifically, do we increasingly “need” to do more, have more, excel more and achieve more to feel content?
It would seem that greater efficiency would make our lives easier, but it’s more complicated than that. In his interesting book The Distraction Addiction, Pang discusses how Jevon’s paradox applies to more than energy consumption. When availability and/or efficiency increase, so do expectations, offsetting any potential decrease in expenditure of limited resources.
When you get a raise or other additional income, do you save 100% of it? I’m guessing not. In fact, I don’t know anyone who does that, and I’m not saying we should. But if we keep adding more and more to our already abundant collection of possessions, experiences and expectations, we don’t need to wonder why we end up feeling stressed and slightly crazy. As it turns out, more is never enough, yet paradoxically, it’s also too much.
Do you do more laundry than you would if you had to do it by hand? Do you ever buy a new appliance or piece of equipment and then feel guilty for not using it enough (in other words, for not spending more of your already limited time with it)? Did getting a cell phone make you feel obligated to leave it on and be interrupted by non-urgent calls and texts throughout your waking hours? Why?
Today, I invite you to join me in taking Pang’s advice. What aspects of your life are actually being made more difficult by things that were supposed to enhance your time, sanity and happiness? I don’t know the ultimate answer of what to do about it, but I think it’s a question worth asking. Feel free to share your own hints, tips and coping strategies in the comments below…but only if you have the time, can do it easily, and want to join the discussion.
“Summers had a logic all their own and they always brought something out in me…they made me want to believe.” — Benjamin Alire Sáenz
As incredible as it seems to me, the summer is already beginning to wind down. The days are getting shorter and there have been a few touches of cool weather here and there that remind me it won’t always be hot, or even warm.
I always see the end of summer with mixed emotions, don’t you? I can’t remember a summer that didn’t seem unusually short. I don’t think of it as my favorite season, but the words quoted above definitely struck a chord with me. Summer does have its own agenda, and part of it shouts to me: “SLOW DOWN and take it easy!” no matter how much activity I try to cram into its three-month duration.
Summer makes me want to believe that good things are possible. Children are playing outside, the ice cream truck joins the birds in sending musical notes into the air, and the evenings find neighbors sitting on their porches or decks, or walking their dogs in the cool of those wonderfully shady hours just before the sunlight disappears altogether. Watering the plants, weeding and tending the lawn take precedence over staying indoors cooking, cleaning or working on homework with the kids. The exposure to daylight really does boost our moods, or at least it seems to do that for me.
What are your plans for the remainder of the summer? I hope that your travels and other urgent activities are mostly behind you, so you can take your time to relish the warm early mornings and cool evenings for a few more weeks. What does the summer bring out in you?
Miller’s words may sound controversial or oversimplified, but the more I think about them, the more I agree. I think one of the great secrets to a full and happy life is to live beneath our means. And because the best things in life really are free, I think living beneath our means is almost always possible, if we have at least a small (minimum-wage) income. I have known many people who have done it successfully for years.
I am thinking of a family who chose to share one car among five people, and a woman who heated her home only with a wood stove, and several people who refuse to this day to get a cell phone or internet service. All of these things are in the category most of us think of as “necessities” but none of these people who went without them ever complained; in fact, they seemed happy with their decisions. For them, these were (and are) conscious choices that left them feeling more empowered rather than less.
The interesting thing is, in almost every case, there were some of us who tried to pressure them to get what we thought they REALLY needed. The family with one car actually had people offer to donate a car to them. The few folks still without cell phones are frequently looked at as aliens from another planet when they tell people they have no mobile phone. (I know, because I used to be one of them.) And internet access is something I’m guilty of trying to talk people into on a regular basis. For me, the internet is up there with indoor plumbing, but not everyone sees it that way, and when I think about it I say: hats off to them.
If you examine your own life, I know you will find that there are things — maybe many things — that you happily do without, that your friends seem to find essential. The trick to living beneath one’s means is learning to think that way about other things as well, things that seem desirable to us, but aren’t really necessary.
It’s not that I think there’s anything wrong with spending money on clothes or restaurants or entertainment. We all do it. But most of us don’t NEED to do it to the extent that we have become accustomed. Jeff and I have a predictable little dialogue that we go through seemingly every time we discuss a potential purchase:
Me: Should we get a (fill in the blank)?
Jeff: Do we need it?
Me: Jeff, we don’t NEED anything!
OK, so maybe we do need groceries (but not overpriced processed foods) and electricity (but not a thermostat set at 70 in the summer) and transportation (but not a huge gas guzzling vehicle to run to the store that’s a mile from our home). I’ve found that it becomes fairly painless to “just say no” to unnecessary spending, because doing so has given us a lot of freedom, in direct and indirect ways.
There’s a quote I’ve kept on my refrigerator for years: “He who knows he has enough is rich.” (The quote is variously attributed, so I’m not sure who said it first.) That’s the heart of the matter, really. There is no freedom quite like the freedom from financial worries.
That freedom often comes after years of career advancement, and having saved enough to have a cushion against unexpected expenses. But it almost always starts with recognizing that money can never do what we may think it can do: add happiness or peace to our lives. More is never enough, and most of us have, right now, all that we need to be happy and content.
Today, let’s celebrate our freedom from needing more money. Let’s focus on those best things that are free. Take a walk and enjoy the trees, grass and flowers, breathing deeply to take in all that oxygen they make for us. Contact a friend or two for a quick hello, just to let them know how much you appreciate them. Go shopping and enjoy exploring the aisles knowing you do not need to buy a thing. Look through some old photographs, or tune in your radio or portable device (if you have one) to a station that plays music you like. Go to the library and browse among the books, magazines, newspapers, DVDs and CDs, most of which are available to check out at no cost. Chill some water and drink it when you are hot and thirsty — it’s incredible how wonderful cold water tastes when we are really thirsty. Sing. Pray. Exercise. Nap. Laugh.
I could go on, but I probably don’t need to. I’m sure you can think of quite a few things that are not for sale, or that you already have, to enjoy today. Share some of them with us by describing them in the comments. And here’s a bonus: I’ll happily send you a FREE tea bag (specify the type and flavor you prefer) or a blank note card for your personal use, or a copy of a poem chosen just for you, or a link to an upbeat song or a funny video. Just send me your postal or email address (as always, I will not publish it online or use it in any other way), let me know which of these little items you prefer, and look for a surprise to come in your electronic or old-fashioned traditional mail box.
If finances are an area of deep concern for you, I’m hoping that you will find new ways to understand that money (or a lack of it) will never define who we are. But all of us, whether we have a lot or a little, struggle with buying into the continual messages telling us it does. Just for today, let’s make an effort to ignore those messages, and drink in (literally or figuratively) those best free things.
The land may vary more;
But wherever the truth may be—
The water comes ashore,
And the people look at the sea. — Robert Frost
I haven’t been to the seashore in awhile, and I’m missing it. Carla, Matt and I enjoyed a late breakfast at the Belvedere recently, but we didn’t have enough time to get out on the beach. I actually enjoy the beach more when it isn’t so hot outside, but something about summer seems to call for gazing out at the ocean. Since I’m not planning to go there in person, I can visit in my mind, and as a bonus, I’ll be avoiding the crowds and sunburn and sand in my shoes.
Want a quick break? Join me for some virtual beach therapy. We can watch the waves in Melbourne, Florida:
Or meditate to the mesmerizing surf on the rocky California coast:
Or catch the sunset at the beach pictured above, Pigeon Point in Tobago:
OK, I guess it’s time to get back to work…Sheila, I’ll join you for our imaginary meeting at Club Verandah (aka Chez Vann) this evening to enjoy your ocean views! Have the iced tea ready, and I’ll bring some freezing-cold watermelon. Sorry, Raynard’s chocolate/coffee/caramel cake is all gone now!
“Child, who sculpted you,
that your face is so like mine
and yet so much your own?” — Joan Walsh Anglund (I think*)
I was about to draft a post for today when I realized something exciting: it’s Grady’s birthday! But without giving you the exact date, or the number of years that separate them, I have to mention that his mother Megan’s birthday is very near to the same day.
This is one of my very favorite pictures of the two of them. It’s not particularly flattering; it was one of those casual snapshots that nobody is expecting. They’re not dressed up and putting on their camera faces here. But the moment I saw it, I was struck with how very much alike they look in this shot.
From the day Grady was born, I always thought he looked like Megan. At times, I will see an expression or a behavior that reminds me of Drew, but for the most part, I think he has more of his mother’s looks. Yet he is very much an individual too. It has always amazed me that no matter how much we try to imagine babies before they are born, they always defy our predictions and turn out to be completely unique. I think that’s a wonderful and divine thing.
I’ll bet you have lots of children in your family who look remarkably like one of their parents or grandparents, and yet are completely, unforgettably themselves. Fred Rogers is right: there is no one in all the world exactly like each of them — or you either, for that matter.
Happy Birthday Grady! And Megan, too! You both are cause for great celebration.
*Disclaimer: This poem is quoted completely from my memory; I believe that it came out in Joan Walsh Anglund’s wonderful book A Cup of Sun, which was published in 1967. Though she is a prolific author whose work was enormously popular (I met her at Rich’s department store at the height of her fame, and she is a beautiful person), much of her work has become mysteriously obscure. In fact, the U. S. Postal service recently featured a poem from that same book on the Maya Angelou stamp, and President Obama (among many others) mistakenly quoted that poem as having been something Angelou wrote.
I don’t want to add to the confusion by misquoting her again, so if any of you happen to have access to a copy of A Cup of Sun, please enlighten us and/or correct that verse if my memory has failed me!
“There are only two things I like to do alone: reading and traveling, and for the same reason. When you travel, and when you read, you are not actually alone, but rather surrounded by other worlds entirely, the footsteps and phrases of whole other lives keeping you company as you go.” — Shauna Niequist
There’s nothing to compare with sharing the beauty and excitement of travel with friends and family, but even so, I completely agree with what Niequist says here. I also enjoy traveling alone, and reading alone, and for the same reason.
Oddly, there’s a sense in which, traveling solo, I connect with new people more (because I notice them more) and I end up having some interesting conversations with strangers. When I travel with friends and family, I am in a sort of cocoon of the familiar and safe. On my own, my senses are more alert, more finely tuned, less distracted, and I enter those “whole other worlds” more completely.
Reading is, of course, the ultimate solo escape; one doesn’t have to worry about timetables or personal safety or finances or finding a decent place to have lunch. If I had to choose one or the other, reading would win out over actual physical travel every time. But traveling, whether near or far, can open the mind to awareness of the wider world in a way that reading cannot do as completely. No matter how vividly we re-create sights and sounds and smells in our imagination, it’s not quite the same as actually being there
Sometime this year, I hope you will make time for a solo getaway, even for just an hour or two. If you’re timid about traveling alone, choose a place closer to home that seems safer, but try to choose something a bit unfamiliar. Museums, parks, even riding the public transportation to a different destination can be a fun adventure. Take along a few things that will make your day easier or more complete — a camera, a water bottle, sunscreen or some energy snacks — but try to travel light, to enjoy the sense of freedom that comes with being by yourself.
What other worlds and other lives are out there waiting to make your acquaintance?
“I only hope that we don’t lose sight of one thing — that it was all started by a mouse.” — Walt Disney
Walt Disney’s success is legendary, and the tough road he took to get there is well documented. He died in 1966, soon after his 65th birthday, an age that sounds far too young to me now. I had recently had my tenth birthday when he died, and I remember feeling sad when I heard of his passing. Though at that time I had never been inside a Disney park, or seen more than one or two of his movies, I can remember thinking that he had changed history as surely as any politician or statesman.
Our family has always been fond of Disney, and we have spent many happy hours enjoying the parks and movies that bear his name, so it’s not surprising that we find him inspirational. But surely even the most anti-Disney curmudgeon out there would have to admit that it’s rather amazing that such a huge empire came from a little cartoon mouse.
Mickey had an early name change (he started out as Mortimer Mouse) and several cosmetic alterations over the years. His first feature film, Steamboat Willie, was rejected by nearly every film executive in the industry, leaving Disney deeply in debt until he found success by allowing just one theater to run it at a very low price. Mickey was a smash hit, and the world — especially the world of children — would never be the same.
Big things almost always start small, which can be good news or bad news, depending on which direction things go in the beginning. Are there any small things in your life that later became great assets, or more unhappily, tremendous liabilities? Are the small steps you take each day leading you in the right direction?
If it seems that you are not accomplishing as much as you wish, remember the plucky little cartoon mouse with the dubious beginnings, and channel his cheerful, never-give-up attitude. It’s doubtful that you will ever build the kind of game-changing industry that Disney did. But I’m sure he would be the first to agree: if you set your sights high and refuse to let discouragement get you down, you CAN live happily ever after.