Constantly and visibly

These beautiful lillies are part of a reading garden at the public library. Poquoson, Virginia, 2014

These beautiful lilies are part of a reading garden at the public library.
Poquoson, Virginia, June 2014

“Life, now, was unfolding before me, constantly and visibly, like the flowers of summer that drop fanlike petals on eternal soil.”Roman Payne

I don’t know whether it’s because I’m less than three years from 60, or because of the many life-and-death issues my family has faced in the past 18 months, but I feel as if my awareness of life’s paradoxically vast brevity is more focused.  I’m astounded by how much goes on, and how quickly it all goes!  It amazes me that so much life can be packed into such short lifespans for each of us, no matter how long we live.

People in my age group are in an enviable position today.  Many of us have enjoyed the privilege of close relationships with people two generations older than us, and now two generations younger than us, plus all those ages and stages that lie in between.  It’s an excellent vantage point from which to take in the panorama of life.

When I walk outside in the spring and summer, I am enchanted by the flowers.  My appreciation of their beauty is sharpened by knowing that even the hardiest of them won’t be there very long.  That’s how I feel about life right now.  Incredibly beautiful, so full and so brief.

One year ago today:

In a garden




  1. bobmielke

    I was snatched from death twice in one day. In 2006 I had congestive heart failure that put me in intensive care on oxygen and IV nitroglycerin. My BP was 255/150. That same night, as I lay in my hospital bed with tubes and needles stuck all over me, there was a terrible train derailment in my little town, resulting in a tank car full of deadly chlorine gas bursting open, killing dozens and injuring hundreds. Had I been home, just a mile from that disaster, I would have died from that chlorine cloud. God snatched me up and kept me safe.

    • WOW, Bob, a double escape! Thanks for sharing this experience with us. If you were able to think consciously that night in the hospital, you probably would have been wishing you were home, little guessing that another catastrophe was in the making. How marvelous that you are still here and telling us about it. There’s nothing like a close call to let us know we are not in control, but can trust in the One who is!

      • bobmielke

        I was literally watching the tragedy taking place as I had a TV in my Intensive Care Ward on a ceiling shelf. I knew the people who were covering my shift at the textile mill. One saved 6 people by driving a company truck through a cloud of chlorine gas to the hospital. As a result of that act of heroism Jack’s lungs were permanently damaged and the railroad that caused the accident paid him 5 figures in compensation. We were literally in the same hallway at the hospital. He retired as the result of his injuries.

        • Wow, what a shame that he was injured, but how wonderful that he was able to save those 6 people. These industrial accidents always remind me of how much we all live in blissful ignorance of all the things that could go wrong, but usually don’t.

          • bobmielke

            Jack has always been blind as a bat. All the workers laughed because when he was driving the rescue truck he ran into the only tree within a mile. The chlorine gas blinded him, or so he says. 🙂 We both quit smoking on the same day.

            • Wow, that makes his rescue of those people even more remarkable. I would probably run into anything in my path if I was running from deadly toxic fumes.

              • bobmielke

                You couldn’t see or breathe. Nobody knew what it was. At 2:00 a.m. on a Sunday morning even the authorities that finally arrived hadn’t a clue of the disaster. It changed a lot of lives and killed the textile industry in the South.

                • I’m just thankful that your friend got out with those people alive – hitting the tree would be just an interesting detail in an otherwise devastating situation. It’s amazing how unaware we can be that such disasters can happen so easily and quickly.

                  • bobmielke

                    The owner of Avondale Mills, Stephen J. Felker, accepted a settlement of $50 million dollars. He then promptly closed all 13 of his textile mills in 3 states. The Chinese, with their cheap labor force and favored nation status, killed our textile industry. That’s why I now live in Oregon. The wreck was just the final blow.

                    • After reading your comment, I was curious to learn more, and found this article. I hate to read about family businesses going under. It’s a shame the settlement with the railroad, who admitted being at fault, dragged on so long. Hopefully our country will find (as you did) that new and better situations can arise after such changes. I suppose some would say we “outgrew” the textile industry and are better off importing things at much lower costs, but there are trade-offs to everything, many of which are not immediately apparent.

                    • bobmielke

                      Since I physically worked in textile mills making primarily denim for 13 years I can assure you the quality suffered when turned over to the Chinese. Avondale Mills, when it was Graniteville Company, made cloth for Levi Strauss. Levi sold out on America and moved its business to Mexico. America lost again.

                    • The sad thing is that everything is made to be disposable now. I bet a good pair of jeans used to be almost an investment, especially for people who wore them as the work clothes they were designed to be. But fashion now dictates that things have to be replaced yearly. So “cheap” goes largely undetected by many people, since nothing anymore is expected to last very long. Luckily I’d much rather be thrifty and resourceful than stylish. Now I am really sounding like an old-timer!

                    • bobmielke

                      Talk about old, I remember buying a brand new pair of jeans from Lee or Levi for $5.

                    • Yes, that was probably before they became the “cool” uniform for everyday wear. Back when men were expected to wear white shirts with ties! Sometimes when I go into DC I am surprised to see so many men wearing suits and ties. Such a rare sight anymore.

                    • bobmielke

                      Now I get on mass transit and see a clown in full costume complete with cufflinks and bowtie.

                    • Just reading this made me smile!

                    • bobmielke

                      I had trouble holding the camera still, not wanting to miss getting that shot. You really never know what to expect on mass transit here.

                    • Hey, I’m glad you let me know you took a picture. I went to your blog and searched with the word “clown” and found this:

                      I wasn’t completely sure if you were using the word “clown” literally or not – now I know! 😀 You are right about mass transit, though…I used to love riding the NYC subway whenever I was there, simply because I always seemed to see something bizarre or memorable.

  2. Ann

    Julia, I love your last two sentences ” That’s how I feel about life right now. Incredibly beautiful, so full and so brief.” So true and well said. Age and a brush with death can give a special perspective.


    • Thank you Ann. Growing older is usually a mixed blessing since it involves many goodbyes and heartaches, but it’s undeniably a rich and generous gift. I hope your day today, and all the days of your life, are filled with that beautiful abundance.

  3. raynard

    Julia one thing I learned from watching that home improvement show”This Old House”. There was a beginning and somethings can “be extended for a longer ending.. Think our life expactancy..( or as the say in supermarket terms shelf life)..Its like becoming a gardener like I was. You just cant” plant flowers water them and hope for the best.( as you stick your finger in your mouth and ” cast it to the wind.. For the past 14 years , I have listened, learned and be blessed and encouraged by a Christian counciling radio ministry.It has helped me to understand” living life than just” existing”.and connecting to other like you.The blessing of your friendship , I never seen it coming but like a flower, as the sun hits it bloomed into something beautiful.. Let me stop ” before I have to”snatch the peeble err tissue from Oprah’s hand lol be blessed

    • Thank you Raynard! I find that many of my favorite blessings were things I never anticipated or imagined. Though that delightful surprise element cuts both ways, sending us things we didn’t know we wanted, as well as things we STILL don’t want, it certainly does make life interesting! Go ahead and snatch that pebble – around here, unlike the monastery where Kwai Chang Caine grew up, it doesn’t mean “it will be time for you to leave.” 😀 It just means there will be another pebble and a faster monk to beat next time. 😀 😀 😀

  4. Julia, I love this author’s take on life. I will have to read more of his works. I also am 57. It is a time to start thinking of the forward and the behind of my years.

    • Cherie, I haven’t read any of his work yet, but he surely has some great quotes. I am remembering you in prayers…hope you and Ron are doing well or at least OK.

  5. singleseatfighterpilot

    Many comments rightfully use the adjectives beautiful, encouraging, lovely, etc. To describe your blog entries. I notice how many of their titles draw on the adverbs from your quotes – I like that! I like the statement, today, about how you feel about life right now. My hope for you is that this feeling will be part of your being continually, impassionately, inevitably, astoundingly, and above all else – – Reverently.

    • Thank you Eric. I think reverence, properly understood, encompasses all the other traits you mention, as well as others. It’s a very big concept that our society needs right now. It seems to me that if all of us truly approached every moment with reverence, most of the problems of the world would be quickly solved or greatly ameliorated. It’s almost impossible to misuse or mistreat anyone or anything if we are seeing through reverent eyes.

  6. kjyaccino

    Well put! At 55, I can relate to taking in life from this “vantage point”. I may have put down the rose-colored glasses but I can also appreciate many more of life’s subtle blessings. xx

    • I never thought of you as having rose-colored glasses. I think you are pretty practical, though you do appreciate things more than most people I know. You are one of the few friends I have who are near my age and still have both parents living – a rare blessing that you treasure as I do.

  7. Debra P

    Julia, Here’s something to make you feel a little younger,,, I shared a photo of Doris B. and Maylon S. with my mom (Jane Patterson) and you were in the pic. She sent me a message asking who that young lady was 🙂 I shared your blog with her and told her how much enjoy reading it, so hopefully she will follow you as well.

    • Debra, thank you so much! Is that the photo I posted on Don’s Facebook page some time ago? I haven’t seen Ed, Doris or Maylon since then, but I really wish I could. Maybe next time I’m in Atlanta I’ll try to get together with them again. Those two families are like family to us. In fact, once when Maylon and Christine went to the Bahamas with us, the woman in the straw market assumed Maylon was my father and was trying to talk him into buying me this lovely bag I saw. “Oh, come on Daddy, buy it for her!” He played right along and spun a tale about how he wasn’t buying me anything because I was always getting into trouble. 😀 The woman never found out he was not really my dad. Now we joke about it every time we are together. I’m so happy you like the blog! Thanks for reading it!

  8. Carlyle

    As I read your and Eric’s words, I can reflect and remember going through the same understanding and revelations you are experiencing when I was your age,Now, nearly three decades older, I am in a position to tell you that if you live, you will continue to gain understanding of the wonder and mystery that accompanies the unfolding of this brief time we spend this side of eternity..

    • Thank you Daddy! I am SO, SO grateful for those three decades, and I wish we could have three more! (But am grateful for every single year!) I do know that you and Mama both continue to pass along the wisdom that comes with age. I especially appreciate and remember your very rare request for me to pass some advice along to Jeff about a separate matter that came up before he was diagnosed with cancer: “Tell him that when he gets to be my age, it will seem a little different than it does now.” He appreciated it. I know you remember what I’m referring to. We love you!

  9. Larry

    I am reminded of a poem my grandmother quoted often. She was often consciously aware of the brevity life brings but she counted each minute as a treasure. It was:
    “The clock of life is wound but once,
    And no man has the power
    To tell just when the hands will stop
    At late or early hour.

    To lose one’s wealth is sad indeed,
    To lose one’s health is more,
    To lose one’s soul is such a loss
    That no man can restore.

    The present only is our own,
    So live, love, toil with a will,
    Place no faith in “Tomorrow,”
    For the Clock may then be still.”― Robert H. Smith

    Indeed it has a sad tone to it, but on further thought it is like the surprise lily blooming in our yard right now. It springs forth with beauty and life. We value the spiritual life more than the physical. We are walking on stepping stones here but then we shall walk and talk with God. What a walk, to go where angels have walked and then stand to see the beauty John could only begin to describe.
    Define the few short days we have here and then define the eternal day awaiting us all.
    That is some deep thinking.

    • Larry, what a lovely poem! I don’t remember seeing it before. Gloria and I have talked often about the fact that gradually, over the years, the fear of death begins to transform more into acceptance and even a strange sort of anticipation. Not that we are ever truly ready for it to come, for us or anyone else, but increasing proximity to it doesn’t feel as fearful as we might have expected it would, way back when we were young and wanted to live forever (I remember 70 or 80 years sounding like forever). I love getting older. I really do. I pray that Jeff and I will have the privilege of growing old together.

  10. Michael

    Yea- “The privilege of growing old together.” So much we take for granted. You are of same age as my little brother Mark. Time does seem to compress somehow as we move along. I remember thinking- a few years back- “Oh my Lord, in the year 2000 I will be 50. “It seemed like a long ways off, and now has come and gone and I am singing that Beatles song again- “Will you still need me…. when I’m——.”
    And why do those adds for adult homes for parents always say-” finding a home for Mom. Where are the dads.?

    • Michael, isn’t it amazing how YOUNG 50 sounds now? As to your question “where are the dads?” Sadly, I am guessing that the demographics these advertisers aim at suggest their potential customers are mostly women. It’s a hard truth, perhaps politically incorrect, but one I’ve been observing all my life: widowed men tend to remarry, and usually to a younger woman. Older women who are widows very rarely have the chance to remarry at all, much less to a younger man. The result of this is that far more women are left with no one to take care of them. Add that to the fact that women tend to outlive men, and most men marry women the same age or younger to begin with (Jeff is an exception to this rule since he’s two years younger than I am 🙂 ) and that’s why you end up with mostly “mom” in these commercials.

Thanks for encouraging others by sharing your thoughts:

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