Mostly standing still

West Sussex, England — Photo by Emma Simpson on Unsplash

Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still not half-perfect? Let me
keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,

which is mostly standing still and learning to be
astonished. Mary Oliver

Bereavement, grief and aging are slicing through much of what once seemed inviolable to me. Not only has my life changed; I’ve changed as well. And I find that other people in my life have changed, too, whether from circumstances in their own lives, a discomfort with proximity to the magnitude of what I’ve endured, or some combination of both.

It’s painful to realize that most of what once lent meaning to my daily effort is now gone, rendered irrelevant or exposed as illusory. The blessing in the falling away of so many distractions is the increased time for standing still and learning to see larger, more impressive vistas that may have been obscured by busyness or trivial worries. And very little, it turns out, is about me at all. What a relief!

For those of us granted a long life, so much abides through the seemingly endless losses. How breathtakingly enormous a universe, that even our limited portion of it is filled with wonder and delight! What astonishes you today? Start with the view outside your window right now, and let your mind wander into infinity briefly before you return to your less important work.

35 Comments

  1. Linda

    Beautiful post, thank you.

    • You’re welcome, Linda. Thanks for being here!

      • Connie Reed

        Outstanding blog Julia! I could really relate to your last two blogs. Even though, I am blessed to still have my husband around, I lost a large part of him and our life together 20 years ago when he became sick and is now left with debilitating effects of his illness. So, between helping him and my late parents, I went through a sort of grief that made me feel like I was living a dream and I was in a constant fog. Your words and your wisdom have helped me through some of my difficult times. And that I happened to luck up on reconnecting with you after all these years, I know now that it was not luck, but an intervention from God. Thank you!!

        • Connie, I feel the same way. How funny to think that neither of us imagined, when we were young girls, that all these years later we would be sitting here staying in touch via a means of communication totally unknown in our childhood! If anything I have said has been helpful to you, that makes me very happy. 🙂 Somehow when I hear from you I feel close to my parents, and also to your parents and our childhood friends and that whole world we were so lucky to have called home. Are you still in Atlanta? I have no idea when I’ll be there again, but if you are still there I’d love to see you in person sometime. Meanwhile– I am so blessed to hear from you here! ❤ Sending love and many nostalgic hugs!!

  2. Linda Blackford

    I love this! It’s so true, and I’m thankful you have already figured out how to at least begin coping and moving forward. Yes, I’ve known loss, too, and I’ve experienced some of the extra residual loss afterward. But if I stand still and witness so many astonishing things around me, I begin to see why I may still be here and find that life has a different kind of beauty.

    • Linda, I’m so glad you liked this post. It helps to know that other people have found the same source of solace. It lets me know I’m not imagining things; that tapping into the collective energy (for lack of a better term) of the wider world is a vital survival skill. As you say, it’s a different kind of beauty altogether, but one that feels more solid and less dependent on individual circumstance. Thanks for being here!

  3. Love the post Julia.
    Much change enters our lives whether be it by our own doing or not. We are constantly undergoing adjustment. Of it, at first, we seem not to be ourselves. That I believe is in great part due to our attitude toward the changing landscape of our lives. We have a hard time in what to make of it, but still can make something worthwhile out of it. And in so doing we remain the unique person that God has made us to be, for by his grace we need not be altered by circumstance.
    -Alan

    • Thank you, Alan. Your comment reminded me of a favorite quote from C. S. Lewis, which I just looked up again and found so helpful that I will share it here:
      “Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.” (from Mere Christianity)

      • Love that quote too! One of the finest books that I read was “Mere Christianity.” From both trial and change is brought a greater good. Christ showed us that from the cross.
        -Alan

        • Thank you Alan. That’s one of those “hard truths” that ends in great comfort, but getting there can be difficult, to say the least. I feel as if I’m being put through some sort of crucible and I just hope that whatever is left is worth something. 🙂

          • Julia,
            Christ has shown that what is left is worth everything.

            James 1:12, “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the LORD has promised to those who love him.”

  4. Harry Sims

    For behold, the winter is past; the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth, the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land.
    —Song of Solomon 2:11-12 ESV

    Today is the first day of spring! Soon the first precious flowers will bud and bloom. Just as nature is blossoming, God’s work is silently budding in your life.

    Today’s Prayer:
    Heavenly Father, nurture my spirit and help me grow into the person You intend me to be.

    I can’t say exactly why but reading this in silence and allowing a bit of contemplation just makes me feel good.

    A good friend of mine here in the retirement community we live in was saying a Lament to me one day; “Harry, where are the Golden Years?”
    I replied, “Georganne,this is it”.

    Harry

    • Thank you, Harry, for these reassuring thoughts. Today’s prayer goes perfectly with the quote from Lewis that I just included in my reply to Alan’s comment. For better and worse, these are indeed the Golden Years, for those of us fortunate to be here living them. Every year, spring reminds us not to be defeated by what appears to be death, decay and disintegration. The earth seems to be waking up from a winter’s nap. Still a bit sleepy, to be sure, but I can hear a bird singing outside as I write this!

  5. Jim Beavers

    Thank you for reminding me that I need to “stand still” a little more often.

    • You’re welcome, Jim. It’s always nice to hear from you!

  6. Good morning, Julia!
    Yesterday morning, I started with the view outside my window, and let my feet (and camera) wander out into the seemingly infinite fog. (I’m in Florida, visiting my parents.)
    I think it’s interesting – in the photo that you selected, the girl is peering into the sunshine, trying to see her way. The fog has a similar result, even though the effects seem quite different.
    Into the sunshine, into the fog:
    both make it difficult to easily perceive our way.

    • Florida! Quite a change from the northern climates to which you are accustomed. I hope you are enjoying the relative warmth. Yes, it is definitely possible to be “blinded by the light” as the old saying goes. And both sunshine and fog can be seen as helpful, or harmful. I choose to see sunshine as benevolent warmth (though I do wear sunscreen now, having learned the error of my ways 🙂 ) and fog is, to me, a magical mist, cooling and enchanting. I loved living on the central coast of California where the fog rolled in pretty much every morning, burning off into the evening into radiant sunshine. The plants loved it, too. It’s true that both bright light and fog can obscure vision, but perhaps that enables us to find our way through other, more neglected senses…

      • Well said: “allowing us to find our way through other, more neglected senses”
        I think I have neglected prayer in my most recent transitions, and your answer is key to finding my way! God bless you!

        • Thank you, Susan. Prayer is one of many things I have neglected, at least in the traditional sense, though I have kept up a more intensive “running conversation with God” à la Tevye. Though I wasn’t thinking of prayer when I mentioned our more neglected senses, your comment has reminded me that it may be the most important one.

  7. Chris

    Hi Julia,
    Very nice. I smile, as I sit and my mind wanders, as my thoughts take me to so much of the past, and my imagination. But I digress (as Raynard would say).
    This past Sunday, my pastor told us the story of the rich man and Lazarus. (Luke 16:19-31). Each time I hear the parable I perceive something new. I guess that’s why scripture never gets old. The takeaway is that we should guard against “tunnel vision”. Get beyond “our routine”, see the world and people around us. In a sense, I can relate this message to an awakening to the many “distractions” in our ordinary lives. For whatever circumstance we arrive at the awakening, we now are at a place of sanctifying grace. We can be in awe of the wonder of God’s creation, but it’s an opportunity. A chance to put our faith in action, as we respond to those around us.
    Wishing you a wonder filled day! 😊

    • Hi Chris, thanks for these helpful observations. I think so many of us slide into “tunnel vision,” both in our vocations– I’ve especially noticed this among different medical specialists– and in our everyday life. It’s natural, I suppose, but it’s something to beware. So many of the stories Jesus told were about people who were totally clueless about the consequences of their own actions (or lack thereof). Ignorance is definitely not bliss, at least not in the great scheme of things. I do think that scripture has fresh insights on every reading; I’ve come to believe that is what is meant by the description of it as “living and active.” What a great thought– that blessings are also opportunities that should not be squandered. Thanks for being here. I’m getting started on a wonder-filled day, beginning with the robin outside my window.

  8. I stare out the window quite often, Julia. I remember doing it in school, distracted by grief after my father died. I got away with if for years. No one seemed to notice or care. Funny that. I haven’t thought about that in years. I was always shy and quiet and well behaved, but my school work suffered. At some point I woke up, checked back in to life, and swam forward through the grief, not just the loss of my father, but the poverty, a close relative with mental illness requiring all of mom’s attention and other forces outside of my control. Though I’m agnostic in my religious views, I have learned the hard lesson again and again that we have very little control over what life serves up, only control over how we deal with it.

    I sense between the lines here, and I may be mistaken, that you’re feeling abandoned or alone by others that can’t face your loss and grief so they withdraw. Is that true? That’s happened to me before as well as friends suffering grief. Sending love and light your way.

    • Alys, I wonder if any of your teachers noticed but were hesitant to say anything, fearing to unintentionally make things worse? Surely they had some idea of your loss. As you know, when we were kids, mental health was too often all but ignored, even in the face of devastating circumstances. But then as now, it’s regrettable that the kids who end up getting the lion’s share of attention from teachers and school staff are the disruptive ones who act out. This is exponentially true in special education classes. Matt was always so pleasant and agreeable that he could be “safely” ignored by stressed-out school staff. Aside from the other ways this impaired his education, over the years he watched and saw who got the attention and how they got it, and I think it taught him some dysfunctional behaviors in the long term. Anyway, I’m glad you were able to “check back into life” and I think that’s a testimony to your strength. Also, it likely has a lot to do with your compassionate heart, though trouble hardens some kids and leads to worse problems. It’s surely a complex set of factors that goes into who and where we are today. Speaking of which, though you intuit correctly that I feel abandoned and forgotten, I really think it’s nothing personal or unique to me. I think many people feel that way nowadays, and I’m starting to see and hear of small but growing movements away from the preoccupation with technology that has, in part, created isolation as we deal more and more with machines and forget how to be human. To cite just one example that you and I enjoy, there’s the emergence of postal mail as a global hobby for increasing numbers of people. Having said all that, it is definitely true that the widow– particularly the widow under 70 years old– has no real place in a world that is, intentionally or not, designed for couples, families, or longtime happily-single people with networks of kindred spirits and firmly established careers. To put it bluntly, nobody needs or wants the widow; she (or he, but usually it’s a she) is primarily an object of pity and avoidance or obligation. Sad but true, and not my imagination. I think I’m really just going through, at a younger age, what is waiting down the road for everybody else. And yes, I do think it is exacerbated by the tendency of people to keep their distance from grief, or disability, or anything else that disrupts our individually crafted worlds. The plus side to all of this sorrow — and there is one — is similar to what we experienced over the years of having Matt in our family: much that is false or shallow gets stripped away, and the few people who “hang in there” are golden, so one ends up with a clarity that heightens the sparkle of all that is beautiful. Thanks for being among those golden people!!!

  9. Sheila

    Julia, I’m glad I read this outstanding blog again and such wonderful comments, realizing that I hadn’t commented. I must have been distracted or stepped over to the window to peer outside. Who knows! I watched the link you shared for “Fiddler On The Roof” and want to share with the Vann Clan tomorrow. Hope all is well with you, hugs for Matt, too. Our April Verandah is quickly approaching! 🌷

    • Yes, and I haven’t peeked! I got a second calendar hanging underneath it, that I use when I have to look ahead for planning purposes. I like being surprised at the start of each month.

  10. I’m going backwards here trying to catch up with you. You write such profound posts that I can’t rush through them. I read Alys’ comment too. So much wisdom from both of you. When I left my last husband and my home, a lot of our friends chose not to communicate further even though they fully understood the reasoning. If you think widows at 70 have no place in the world, try being a divorcee at that age. You learn to like your own company and try to fit in with the old widows. People pull away and leave you flapping in the breeze, just when you need an anchor the most. I know many women who have lost adult children and people don’t want to hear about their grief either. It becomes part of the fabric of their soul. We need to share our grief for whatever reason it’s present because it lightens the load. That old Neil Diamond song comes to mind, “He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother”. We are all in this together. Just putting my arms around a neighbor who had recently lost and adult daughter changed us both. It was not a recent loss, but still heavy on her heart. There is no end to grieving. Just an easing somewhat. Never be afraid to share it when you need to do that. Giant squishy hugs, M

    • Marlene, I was struck by what you wrote: “People pull away and leave you flapping in the breeze, just when you need an anchor the most.” That sounded so familiar and true. I think that happens to many of us. Sometimes it’s because of something that is going on in our own or our family’s lives (bereavement, divorce, illness, unemployment, addiction, incarceration, whatever) but I think quite often it’s at least partly because of what may be going on with the other person. The constant barrage of stimulation from many directions– some helpful, much harmful– wears us out and leaves us with very little to give. I try not to take it personally when I feel distance from others. I remind myself how many times I have unintentionally left people hanging, just because I was so absorbed in my own challenges. I do find that being alone recharges my energy level much more than being out or with people. But yes, we are all in it together, and we need each other. Thanks for being here for me!! 🙂 Giant grateful hugs!

  11. Mike

    They had a saying in CPE training, ” Don’t just run around the table- sit there!
    Yesterday was am amazing day at the zoo Atlanta with Norah and JoJo. I saw the most amazing beautiful white peacock in full display. The “display” must have been almost 6 feet across. Just a brilliant white. Perhaps it was an Albino- I don’t know. The pink flamingoes at the entrance were also amazing and it was a perfect weather day for us as compared to today’s downpour- consistent- and potential thunder storms. Someone said to m e the other day, ” Georgia is the only state (in which) you can experience all four seasons in one day.”
    I believe it.

    • Mike, WOW, I have never seen a white peacock. It must have been albino. I wonder if Flannery O’Connor (who knew quite a lot about peacocks and kept some at Andalusia, her Georgia home) ever saw one? I haven’t been to the Atlanta zoo in so many years that I don’t even remember there being flamingos there. I’m glad you had great weather. Drew tells me that the trees and blooms in Atlanta are much farther along into springtime displays than ours here are. My azaleas at York are just starting to bloom, and the ones in Alexandria have just tiny buds so far.

  12. Mike

    Yesterday I spoke with a very nice lady who just celebrated her 90th birthday. She said at one point-” I can’t believe I am the only one left. All my brothers are gone, sisters and aunts, parents, cousins. Friends. All gone.”
    She has one son in Alaska she rarely gets to see. What do you do when you are the only family left? Tough situation. No glossing over it.

    • Yep, no glossing over it, for sure. Matt is the only family member I see often, and my sister (who lives hours from any airport that has nonstop flights to here) visits most often of all my out-of-town relatives– in fact, with rare exceptions, she’s the only one who visit– but that is still not nearly as often as I would like to see her. We try to make up for it with phone calls. Since Jeff died, Drew and his family (in Atlanta) have been here once– for the funeral, staying only 2-3 days– and Drew and the boys came last October for Columbus Day weekend, the one-year anniversary of Jeff’s death. We did not see them at all on Thanksgiving or Christmas. So the lady with the son in Alaska whom she rarely sees does have my sympathy. I try not to wonder: if life is already like this for me at 61, what will it be like when I’m 90? Assuming I live that long. As I’ve often said, and mean now more than ever, a long life is a mixed blessing. I’m glad she had that conversation with you. You may well be the only person she talked to that day.

  13. Mike

    “The World is so full of such wonderful things, I know we should all be as happy as kings.”
    Pee Wee Herman.

    • I see Pee Wee Herman likes to quote people too! That’s one of my favorites from Robert Louis Stevenson. I knew because I used to have a lovely color poem book (color in books was quite rare in my childhood) with that “poem” in it. I thought of it as a poem then, and still do now.

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