Foundations of ease

After decades of wishing, it was the vacation of a lifetime. Jeff and I enjoy the Amalfi Coast of Italy, May 2008.

After decades of wishing, our Mediterranean cruise was the vacation of a lifetime.
Jeff and I enjoy the Amalfi Coast of Italy, May 2008.

“Burdens are the foundations of ease and bitter things the forerunners of pleasure.” Jalāl ad-Dīn Rumi

I had to really think about this one for a few minutes; I wasn’t sure whether it was truth or wishful thinking.  Then I remembered the joke about the man who, when asked why he hit himself repeated on the head with a hammer, replied “Because it feels so good when I stop.”

Nobody I know really wishes for burdens or bitter things.  Yet some people seem more ready than others to take them on, especially if it means in doing so, they are helping someone else. We tend to label such people as “saints” or otherwise distance ourselves from the expectation that we should measure up to a bar that has been set so high.  But no matter how much we try to avoid it, we all end up with cares of our own to endure.

And really, all joking aside, we would not know the meaning of ease if that was all we had ever experienced. Jeff and I are grateful for the relative poverty of the early years of our marriage, when we literally could not afford to eat out even at McDonald’s.  Not only did we learn how to enjoy life without spending large sums of money; we also knew how to appreciate the comparative ease that would be ours in the decades to come.  When Jeff first finished dental school and got into the Air Force, what some would have viewed as a bare minimum of income felt like wealth to us, and we’ve felt wealthy ever since.

In the same way, the challenges we have faced as parents of a son with significant disabilities have created a unique appreciation for those rare moments we are able to get away together, just the two of us.  We don’t have to do anything special at such times for it to feel like a vacation.

I’m sure you have experienced similar levels of gratitude for things that others have always taken for granted.  A student who has labored for years toward a degree will someday know just how amazing it is to have evenings and weekends free for hobbies and relaxation.  A patient who has suffered through a broken leg or back surgery will have a sharpened understanding of the joy of pain-free movement.  A couple who endured the challenges of infertility treatments must have a heightened sense of excitement over a pregnancy or adoption.

Today, think of your own personal burdens and bitter things.  In what ways might they be the forerunners of pleasure?


  1. It comes back to contrast. It’s a necessity of life. When you feel the discomfort of something you don’t want, it brings what you do into sharper focus. No one gets through life without contrast or challenge. Some are just more obvious than others. You are so correct that the lean times and struggles make everything else so much sweeter. You can’t have a rainbow without a little rain. We say we are sorry when we hear someone is going through a challenge. I would be embarrassed to say what I’m really thinking to them, which is what is the gift of this event and what are you learning from it. The lessons are bitter but the results of accomplishment through them so sweet. You are so on target. I was there too. That was how I saw my Bells. What is this trying to tell me, teach me and get me to see? It was a real education and still is. Hugs to you and yours.

    • Marlene, I am so happy you are able to see your health issues through that lens. I do think almost every difficulty has something to teach us, but we have to be willing to be taught. Not everyone is, at least not in the beginning…but even the stubborn ones among us eventually come around! Someone once told me to be careful about praying for patience, because I might not like what it will take to help me learn it. Where it comes to health, I think sometimes pain and even illness are our body’s way of telling us to pay attention to what it needs. I think it was Bernie Siegel who said (in the book Love, Medicine and Miracles) that he used to ask his patients, “Why did you need this disease?” On first hearing that question, it sounds rather blunt and heartless, but there’s an important point there when we get past the outrage that a doctor would dare to ask such a thing.

      • I know I had a hard time wondering why anyone would think an illness had anything good to offer. It always breaks my heart when I hear someone is ill. But I own 2 copies of Dr, Siegel’s book. I’ve read so many like it so I started to look at illness differently. Always with compassion first. Then, where are the blessings. Illness changes family dynamics . It changes friendships and so many other things. I knew why mine happened, why I needed it. A lot of changes happened because of it. I’m grateful for it if that sounds odd. But I think I’m ready to be done. 🙂

        • I know the feeling! “OK, we have learned a great deal. Point made. Time for us to get well now!!” But I do understand how you can feel grateful for all you have learned. Glad to hear you enjoyed Dr. Siegel’s book! I read my mother’s copy many years ago when Matt was facing open heart surgery, and I have never forgotten how it inspired me with hope.

  2. HarryS

    Ever wonder about the self flagellators?

    Do you think there is purpose in their “madness”?

    They march through the streets whipping their backs to the point of and even beyond the point of bleeding but then they enter the quietness and comfort of the mosque for a period of peaceful worship.

    Well I hardly think that this degree of discipline is good or necessary but in some ways the attitude of enduring hardship as it comes is a principal for better times ahead.

    “…. endure hardship as a pathway to peace” – from the concluding verses of the serenity prayer.

    “Burdens are the foundations of ease and bitter things the forerunners of pleasure.”— Jalāl ad-Dīn Rumi

    On the Defeat Despair blog site the concept of “brighter times ahead” is discussed this morning and the important thing to know in my opinion is quite often this wonderful occurrence and attitude may only be appreciated by looking at it through the retrospectascope which by the way is a trick word that my old partner Mike Grantham and I often used.

    I beat myself up so long and so often by practicing the disease of alcoholism on myself that it is hard to describe the joy I have felt since I stopped this over 28 years ago.

    By grace I was saved through faith.

    • WOW Harry, was this ever an eye-opener for me! I had heard of Catholic monks practicing self flagellation back in medieval times, but I had no idea some Muslims did it today. When I read your comment, I did an online search and was horrified at what I found. Huffington Post has a 28-photo slide show of some of the most gruesome pictures I ever saw. Bloody faces and bodies that have been cut, scourged or even impaled, and horrifyingly enough, even small children who have been the objects of such violence, as part of a religious festival. Out of the 28 photos, almost all were of Muslim faith, though there was one from a Hindu sect and two or three from a small sect of Catholics in the Philippines (the slide show added that the Catholic church does not approve of their practices). Knowing that Rumi was an Islamic scholar, that sort of puts his quote in a more sinister light — but that’s not how I choose to think of it. I totally agree with you that we can only appreciate it via “retrospectascope” (I love that term) and cannot intentionally create it by abusing ourselves or anyone else. I also agree with you that too often we practice other, more subtle but equally useless forms of self-punishment by berating ourselves nonstop over our shortcomings. I am so happy you have been free of addiction for so many years!! It is always such an encouragement to see living evidence that it is possible to overcome and survive.

  3. Julia, I suppose the tough times really do make us tougher, or at least helps us deal with situations. It would be hard to go back to those early days of marriage and poverty when Bill was in the Navy. Did young love see us through? I think so! We had so little to have so much. I love your post and the wonderful photo. 🌸 Sheila

    • Sheila, we look back on those early years with great fondness. We don’t miss the roach motel kitchen or the air conditioning that was perpetually broken, leaving our third-floor apartment stifling in the Memphis heat. We don’t miss walking up those concrete outdoor steps to get to our apartment, or having to wash our clothes at a laundromat that was too often full, so that we’d have to lug the clothes hamper back up those concrete stairs and try again later. We don’t miss living in a part of town that was perpetually on the list of “most unsafe urban areas” in the city. What we do miss are the friends, fun, happiness and love. As you say, you can have those things in abundance even with a poverty-level income. Thanks for being here with us and sharing the memories!

      • Anon E. Moose

        Please Lock The Dam Door.
        If You Are Robed It’s Your Own Fault.

        • OK, so this is one of those things where you had to be there, but it was truly hilarious. Eric has transcribed verbatim (spelling included) a note that was written in ALL CAPS in red marker and duct-taped to the common entry hall door of a midtown Memphis apartment building. The sign’s author was an aging ex-priest who was the self-appointed security guard and all around busybody of the building, which was owned by a nurse for whom I worked. The actual sign is still extant — in fact, I have it in my stockpile of memories somewhere in my York home.

          • Calling Mr. Language Person, aka Dave Barry: is the phrase “still extant” redundant? And does it matter?

  4. That’s a lovely photo of you Julia and what a pretty dress. I’m glad the two of you could get away and enjoy the splendor and beauty of a long-hoped-for trip.

    When Chris was small, we never went anywhere without him. When we eventually found a babysitter I was comfortable with and went out for ‘date night’, I remember making every minute of those four hours (5 till 9) count. We went to dinner, walked around a bookstore, took in a movie, and returned home after bedtime, extending the evening even longer. It was bliss.

    • Alys, wasn’t that a wonderful reward for having been dedicated parents? All the more delightful for the long wait until the opportunity arose.

  5. Julia,
    Wonderful post. Many can identify with your life experieces. And as you have shown, can be better for it.

  6. Look you you two, just gorgeous. You have such a pretty smile Julia. Isn’t it fun to enjoy a long awaited holiday with your one and only? How Romantic.

    Your opening paragraph made me laugh. I guess it *would* be a relief once you stopped knocking on your head, LOL. Personally there’ve probably been many times where a hard lessoned learned made the outcome bittersweet. When we were shopping for a home, we finally found one we really loved and offered full price. Sadly we still lost it when another offer was ‘best bid plus $1,000’ (their realtor was more on the ball than ours). In the end, our neighbourhood is newer, quieter and prettier and this home was 50k less than that house. So it all worked out ok. At this home we bit full price and the seller was the owner so he accepted that night and we also saved the realtor fee which would have been considerable. We sent him dinner certificates at a good resturaunt but never heard back. I don’t really get what realtors do. We did all our own on-line searches, reading, investigating, drive-by’s, neighbourhood drive throughs, crime map searched, city zoning and application for re-zoning searches. All he did was show up and open the door. So we didn’t feel we owed him for a private sale since we also found this home on our own. All’s well that ends well xo k

    • Wow, I can’t believe all the parallels in our lives. When we first moved to Virginia, we found a wonderful home I was dying to own. We were out from CA and only had a week, so we wrote a “beat the best offer by $1000” and the realtor of the owner REFUSED TO SHOW THEM OUR OFFER until the end of the week!! This was when the housing market was white-hot and bidding wars were everywhere. Our realtor told us that it was greedy and unethical of the realtor to withhold that offer from the seller until the end of the week (maybe he was just lazy or had other things to do before then). He explained to the other realtor that we didn’t have a week and would be going back to CA. When we did not hear back in two days, he withdrew our offer and we bought another home. The other agent had the unmitigated GALL to get mad that we withdrew our offer! But as you say, all’s well that ends well — the home we ended up buying was bigger, nicer, newer and just perfect for us — I now know I would not have wanted to live in that first home because the traffic at the only road in there is TERRIBLE every day at rush hours. I agree with you that things have changed so much that realtors need to seriously re-think many aspects of their jobs, including whether a 6% commission is always justified. One size does not fit all, and when a client ends up doing a good part of the work on their own, the price should be flexible. I think an itemized bill would not be unreasonable. Just my two cents…

      • Yes, agree, ah-ha……LOL….back tomorrow J. I have thoughts but my eyes a closing LOL xo Nighty night

        • My comments get so long that you can read yourself to sleep with them, hee-hee! Nighty night and good morning! Today I am very sleepy for some reason so I’m yawning along…

          • Good morning Julia ❤ Are you still making coffee in the morning? What did you and Matt have for breakfast? No Veggie Bacon I'm sure, LOL. I crack up everytime I look at that picture or you and the bacon box. It's my day off, but I'm picking up my Aunty for breakfast.

            You're so right, the job of a realtor has really changed. Perhaps they should charge per showing? An itemized bill is a good idea. Our guy kept bringing copies of comparisons in the area even though we said not to bother. We compared on line before we even decided whether or not to view. Next time we move, we'll not bother with one and show our home ourselves.

            • No veggie bacon around here, and usually no coffee either — I meant for you to take those Verona coffee beans with you because they’re still here, waiting for cold weather to come. When my sister visits next week we’ll grind the beans again. She is a coffee lover.

              Jeff and I have been lucky to have a couple of realtors who REALLY earned their pay, but we did sell a home ourselves one time – it was when interest rates were double-digit and we had an assumable 6.75 loan, which was nearly unheard of in those days, so the home sold itself. The assumable loan went the way of the dinosaur not long after that. But still, that was in the days before people could search for themselves on the computer. There are a lot of assumptions about selling real estate that need to be adjusted, I think. I read an article the other day that said open houses almost never benefit the seller, but the agent uses them to get new contacts. To be fair, it probably also gives the agent some good input from potential buyers regarding what they want in a home. But I still don’t plan on doing any open houses if we ever sell any property again.

  7. LB

    You both look wonderful in this shot! I’m so glad that you were able to enjoy this dream trip together.
    Julia, how do you keep up with your blog with all you have going on in your life?
    and you post about such thought provoking things, too.
    You’re a pretty incredible woman, you know?

    • Thanks, LB, you are so kind! The only way I can keep up with the blog is to write the posts in advance (usually about 2 weeks) which gives me a buffer to catch up when things get too hectic. But the blog is a nice sort of task to have; it’s more fun than, say, vacuuming the floors or cleaning the bathrooms. Your generous comment is welcome today as I don’t feel very incredible right now. BUT I know we all have days like this, right? Hope you are having a super summer.

  8. Wow!

    • Hi Harshit, hope you are doing well! That Amalfi Coast was a definite “WOW” — the roads scared me but it was worth it and I’d go back again if I could. I’d want to make sure and have the best, safest cab driver, though!

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