So great a sweetness

A detail from a whimsical canvas in the cardiology waiting room at Children's National Medical Center, March 2014

Detail from a whimsical canvas in the cardiology waiting room,
Children’s National Medical Center, Washington, DC, March 2014

When such as I cast out remorse
So great a sweetness flows into the breast
We must laugh and we must sing,
We are blest by everything,
Everything we look upon is blessed.William Butler Yeats

Recently when I took Matt for his diagnostic testing and pre-surgical planning at the Children’s National Medical Center in DC, I knew it was going to be a long, hard day.  His cardiac situation is so complex by now that I have learned there is no such thing as a quick, routine appointment, and this one wasn’t even meant to be routine.  We were discussing his upcoming fifth open heart surgery.  (Though Matt is 28 years old now, his complex heart condition requires that he see cardiologists who specialize in congenital defects, and these doctors are almost always located at children’s medical centers.)

That morning before leaving home, I decided to make the day better by consciously trying to look for reasons to be happy and thankful.  Almost as an afterthought, I took along my camera, knowing photography makes it easier and more fun to look for the “perfect pictures” Ellis wrote about so eloquently.  As it turned out, I was very happy to have my camera along with us, because I saw many images I wanted to capture.

I’ve lost count of how many times Matt and I have sat in the cardiology waiting room there, but I honestly had no memory of any of the art I photographed there that day, including the lovely canvas from which the detail printed above was taken.  Throughout the various areas of the hospital we walked through that day, there was abundant colorful art, much of it created by young people. What a difference it made to the climate of the huge, potentially intimidating hospital!

But it wasn’t just the art that made the day so much more pleasant than it might have been.  The cheerful and caring staff there were a joy to be with.  More than once I caught myself giving one or another of them a hug, almost without thinking about it.  They didn’t seem to mind.  All of them asked about Jeff, joked with Matt, and generally kept the atmosphere upbeat.

I took the time to really take in the views from the huge glass windows; the rainy urban landscapes, the water, and the hazy U. S. Capitol in the distance.  I photographed these views, along with the large hospital atrium and decorated hallways and a colorful aquarium with different kinds of fish.  I even took a few shots of the doctors clustered around the Medtronic machine, discussing Matt’s always-interesting (to them) pacemaker data.  They didn’t seem to mind, or even notice.

Matt, of course, was sunny as usual, laughing and smiling and generally enjoying himself among the medical professionals he has come to trust as friends.  Anytime I’m in the mood to make things festive, Matt’s in, no question.  That makes the challenges so much easier than if he was a brooding, gloomy type.  Many of the children I saw at the hospital were equally happy, though all probably were dealing with health issues, some more obviously serious than others.

None of this changed the fact that it was a long, exhausting day, and in the rush hour DC traffic, it took us 90 minutes to drive a relatively short distance home.  The rain made it even more tedious than it normally is.  But aside from being very tired, we were in good spirits, all things considered.

There is so much beauty and joy around us in most circumstances, even those that are trying and worrisome.  My camera lens is not rose-colored, but it does help me focus on the best aspects of any situation.  You may find the same inspiration from music, poetry, nature, or just a friendly chat with a friend.

Today, I wish you the sweetness of laughter and singing and blessings everywhere you look!

One year ago today:

A thousand small ways


  1. Good morning, Julia. May you enjoy a blessed day. 🙂

    • Good morning, Merry! I hope you too have a lovely day. It’s just beautiful this morning – about 70 degrees, and I spent the morning taking my plants back outdoors after wintering them in the sun room. So many little spring projects I hope to accomplish! I love this time of year.

  2. Susan

    Hi Julia,
    My computer screensaver is a random slideshow from my collection of photos. Just watching my screensaver for a while cheers me up, with so much beauty, and smiling faces of loved ones. It beats watching TV!

    • Susan, I have read research abstracts that indicate looking at photos has a very real mood elevating effect – no surprise to us! 🙂 Definitely better than television. I’m happy you are taking advantage of this wise use of technology. Have a great weekend!

  3. Ann

    Julia, what a thought provoking blog today, so many things to ponder. Prayers for Matt and Jeff and you!
    PS. I love the photograph

    • Thank you, Ann! I’m so happy you like the photo. There were three similar canvases in the room and I took photos of them all; different primary colors, and it was a hard choice which one to feature here. I tried to find them online so I could credit the original artist, but no luck so far. We really appreciate your prayers and your presence here!

  4. Amy

    What a lovely thought. I know the surgery is fast approaching. Keep me posted as in all things on that front. I thought this was Klimt when I first saw it. Thanks for sharing. Love you.

    • Amy, it does look similar to some of Klimt’s work, although I had not made that connection until you mentioned it. I imagine the artist was influenced by him to some degree. I will keep you posted on Matt’s surgery, but we REALLY need to have that Cracker Barrel anniversary birthday celebration first! What a lot has happened to us both since we surprised you in 2004!

  5. that is a fantastic piece of art, and it’s in a perfect place to give visual comfort and respite to those who are mentally and emotionally exhausted from hospital perils!

    great post amiga!  internet is running pretty fast this morning and i suspect this will reach you!



    • Hooray, your message reached me! I think all degree programs for hospital administrators should include courses on the therapeutic aspects of art in the healing environment (perhaps they already do). Children’s hospitals tend to be better at this than some other places I’ve seen, but this is one way I think we are making progress because I’m seeing increasing evidence that “institutional” decor is giving way to more soothing and pleasing designs. So I hope you artists will keep raising the bar, showing us that life can be more beautiful EVERY DAY! Thanks for being here!

  6. Sheila

    I love the bright, colorful canvas! As I looked closer, I saw the butterfly, which wasn’t obvious to me at first. It’s so wonderful to enjoy the company of one’s child, no matter the ages. Stephanie and I enjoy each other so much everyday, even though it’s in a work setting. Well, it’s actually Monday-Friday. We give each other a break most weekends. 🙂 I’m so glad you’re having a good weekend, my friend!

    • Sheila, I didn’t see the butterfly either, until you mentioned it. Every time I look at the picture, I see new things. Over in the top right quadrant, against the orange color, I see what looks to me like a doctor in surgical scrubs – how appropriate. Wow, your work really is a family affair! It’s wonderful that you all can work together and enjoy it. I’m not sure my own family could pass that test! Hope your weather today was as beautiful as ours was.

  7. I can clearly picture that day, Julia, the two of you together waiting and knowing what a difficult day it would be. I could also imagine myself at the hospital, too. I remember the trips with my mom, my son and with friends. They’ve made so much effort to improve the environment and it does make a difference. It’s nice to see the efforts on behalf of children as well.

    I’m sorry that you and Matt are facing another surgery. I admire your attitude and courage in the face of what lies ahead. Sending you love and strength (though you seem to have that in abundance). xox

    • Alys, we can all use more love and strength, so I appreciate your sending me so much here! Not just today but all the time. 🙂

  8. Carlyle

    Your gift for seeing beauty, hope even humor in so much that we all face in this life is a gift to all who read your blog. Agift for which you will surely be blessed.

    love Dad

    • Thank you Daddy. I learned it from you and Mama. 🙂 Love you!

    • MaryAnn

      Julia, My thoughts, exactly! Since your dad said it so well, I will say: DITTO!
      I do not know Matt’s surgery date. He is in my daily prayers.
      Love, MA

      • Aw, thanks, Mary Ann! For security reasons I don’t publish surgery dates online but I can send it to you via email. Thanks for keeping us in your prayers!

  9. Sheila

    I took another look and saw that image, too. Did you pick out the little girl dancing amidst the bubbles (above the horse) in the lower left? We came to Willow Tree yesterday and have spent greater part of the day outside. We planted some flowers, took a long golf cart ride around the lake, just enjoyed the warmness so much.

    • I vaguely remember seeing here but I’ll have to go back and check again. I love bubbles. Maybe those three paintings in the waiting room are meant to give people something to do while they wait. I’m so happy you had a great day at Willow Tree! Our day today was perfect, sunny without being hot. Jeff says it will be a bit cooler tomorrow. But I’m not complaining!

      • Rene

        She looks like a circus bareback rider (I’m picturing Nancy Drew in THE RINGMASTER’S SECRET). Prayers for all of you Julia!

        • Ah, Nancy Drew! I remember The Ringmaster’s Secret! A few of my very favorites were The Hidden Staircase (second one ever in the series), The Secret of Red Gate Farm, and something or other about The Fire Dragon. Thanks for bringing back memories! 🙂

          • Rene

            I reread about half of the titles a few years ago. I still found MESSAGE IN THE HOLLOW OAK thrilling!

            • Yes, I don’t remember if I mentioned Hollow Oak but it was definitely one of my favorites, and one of the few I actually owned. Plus on my cover Nancy was wearing a KILLER riding outfit! 😀

              • Rene

                Yes, she was!

  10. Sheila

    Julia, after my devotional time this morning it was such a blessing to read your daddy’s kind words, laced with pride. :- ) BTW, the dancing girl is in the lower right … know, the “other left”.

    • Sheila, thanks so much. I feel almost as if you are a part of our family; I appreciate your attention to their comments. I will look for the dancing girl! 🙂

  11. raynard

    Juila I has to go back and read this. It was a hectic day and just coming off night work. maybe a trip to a local museum not just going to a movie is what i need.. my van took a real beating this past winter and previous road trips. With a out of town wedding next month to get ready for, along with my daughter’s college graduation do I need to pace myself?”As the World Turns lol. be blessed

    • Raynard, I think pacing oneself can be a wonderful thing. Jeff’s illness and Matt’s ongoing health concerns have forced us to live a much slower life than most anyone we know, but in many ways, that has been a blessing. I wouldn’t be blogging now if not for that. You certainly need to save a bit of stamina for an out of town wedding trip and college graduation – such things can be exhausting no matter how much fun! So use your best judgment, but remember, life need never be boring even when we are just staying home! Somehow I suspect you already know this. 🙂

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