Such beautiful lessons

What a joy to see these ducks and cows as I strolled along the Thames with my classmates. Oxfordshire, England, June 2017

Another morning and I wake with thirst 
for the goodness I do not have. I walk 
out to the pond and all the way God has
given us such beautiful lessons. Oh Lord, 
I was never a quick scholar but sulked
and hunched over my books past the
hour and the bell; grant me, in your
mercy, a little more time.
         – Mary Oliver

During the course on C. S. Lewis I attended at Oxford last summer, our class would spend late afternoons and evenings walking through the countryside to tiny villages or other noteworthy sites. On these lengthy strolls we were guided by our professors, who had walked these paths with their students for many years. Without a doubt, the best lessons of my short time in England took place outside the classroom, even though these informal sessions involved no tests, no memorization, no presentations or papers to write.

I think I could say the same of my life. Like Oliver, I see beautifully divine lessons all around me, yet I am persistently slow to learn all I need to know from them. How to be still and refuse to feed the agitation of stressful circumstances– how to see the ultimate insignificance of most of what bothers me– how to rest in the many consolations that provide balm for sorrows that no earthly power can heal– these messages and more are beamed to me continually, and I treasure them. Yet how quickly they fade in the face of urgent distress or refractory grief.

I suppose all that I really have going for me is this thirst Oliver mentions, for the goodness I do not have. Happily, that otherworldly goodness is visible in this world, and all we have to do is look for it. It’s hiding in plain sight, one beautiful lesson after another. As long as we have the mercy of a little more time, we surely will find it.


  1. Chris

    Have a blessed day, Julia.

    • Thank you, Chris. 🙂

  2. MaryAnn Clontz

    Your 2nd paragraph tends to be the same for me. I want to “be still” & absorb all the beauty God offers each day & yet:
    “The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
    But I have promises to keep,
    And miles to go before I sleep,
    And miles to go before I sleep.”
    Robert Frost

    • Mary Ann, that is one of my favorite poems. The rhyme scheme is a masterpiece. Our high school motto was “I have promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep.” I wonder whether such a motto would exist for any modern high school.

      • MaryAnn Clontz

        Aaric recently told me he likes this poem, also. His AP English Lit teacher did a plethora of poems. We had a great time discussing them.
        It sure would be an uplifting to hear of a school nowadays with inspiring mottoes!

        • There MUST be some good ones out there! Anybody know of a high school with an altruistic or outwardly-focused motto?

          • MaryAnn Clontz

            Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School teacher & coach, Gabe Stewart, competed on American Ninja Warrior. He wanted to pay tribute to the victims & survivors of the Feb. 14, 2018 school shooting. There were many students & teachers, wearing MSD STRONG t-shirts cheering for him. They have bonded over their tragedy. Maybe they will create a motto.

            • I hope so! It always encourages me when people find ways to shine light into darkness.

  3. Heba

    Just love, love, love this beautiful post, Julia! Your words are always touching ❤

    • Thank you, Heba. I am so happy you like it. It is such a blessing to have you here with us!

  4. Harry Sims

    In Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s splendid story The Little Prince, a lone pilot has crashed in the Sahara. He has no water—only a curious boy from another planet to keep him company. As the man tries desperately to repair his plane, the little prince pesters him with random questions and seemingly idle chatter. The pilot’s exasperation grows until he cries out, “I’m very busy with matters of consequence!”

    The boy is stunned. “Matters of consequence!” he says. “You talk just like the grown-ups!”

    Grown-ups obsess over “important” details like adding up numbers and writing books and being in control. The little prince, however, cares for things like a sheep and sunsets and a rose. Because what’s important and beautiful, the prince knows, is in those details. Even after the two have been trudging across the desert sands for hours, the boy says, “What makes the desert beautiful is that somewhere it hides a well.”

    Harry S

    • Harry, that has been one of my favorite books ever since a friend introduced it to me in junior high. I told my Daddy about it and he promptly went out and bought me a hardback copy (a very rare occurrence, as I can only remember either of my parents buying me many books once I got out of the Little Golden Book years). I still have and treasure that very volume. That quote (about the desert) was the theme of one of my earliest posts. But of course Saint-Exupéry was a very quotable guy, as you can see here and here and here and here and here and here, among many other places. 🙂

      • Harry Sims

        Well I swanny Julia, I have been a regular visitor with you almost since the inception of Defeat Despair and I never took note of Saint. Exupery before but you can bet your boots I will look at him with wonder and pondering now.

        • Harry, he was quite a remarkable man. He wrote several books on aviation before he disappeared while on a reconnaissance mission before the Allied invasion of France. He once crashed in the desert and nearly died before being rescued. This incident inspired The Little Prince, but a more factual account of his ordeal is found in his book Wind, Sand and Stars.

  5. Good morning, Julia!
    Without additional context, I wondered if Mary Oliver’s statement, “I wake with thirst
    for the goodness I do not have,” was a reference to goodness bestowed upon her, or to goodness within her.
    For your part, my dear friend, that thirst is not “all” you have, although it seems so at times.
    As you’ve said, the beauty is there for the finding, and find it, you do. That ability is a lovely gift, which you kindly share with the rest of us, when we might sometimes have a hard time seeing it yourself.
    You also have us, many people who love and pray for you.
    And you have many, many wonderful memories of a romantic love so good and so strong that I would venture to say that most people in the world never have that experience at all. I am sorry that life on earth together didn’t last longer. It seems unfair, and it is unfair, on a number of levels.
    Yet, you recognize that “otherworldly goodness,” even now, and have even adopted a tagline that you know to be true, Jesus’ own words for us all: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33
    (I feel like I got on a soap box and now it’s time to say, “yes, [you in] Virginia, there is … ” goodness and light and a love that shatters all time and space, and thank God, He is!) Yes, one day, we will see with our own eyes, the perfection of that Love, of which we’ve shared only glimpses here in our world, as in Revelations 21:4 and 5 “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new….”
    Thank you again for reminding me. 🙂

    • Susan, that’s an interesting question. I had always read it as a reference to the goodness within her, perhaps because that quote is taken from a coda to her book Thirst, which is a chronicle of her spiritual struggles after losing her lifelong partner. But poetry is often meant to evoke parallel meanings, and perhaps that was Oliver’s intent. Certainly coping with the death of one’s nearest and dearest does leave one, at least occasionally, feeling bereft of goodness bestowed. I do appreciate your kind words. And just lately, I have found myself thinking more often about the unique nature of my relationship with Jeff, including the awareness that probably a great many people do not ever have such an experience. Not that it was perfect– far from it– but certainly it was a “perfect storm” of circumstances that, almost from the very beginning, were destined to either drive us apart or much closer together, and of course, the latter was how it turned out. It does not take away the grief, but it stirs into the mix a measure of gratitude and humility that cuts through the self-pity. Your closing words are sublime indeed and you were not on a soap box in sharing your thoughts. Besides, what is the comments section but a virtual soapbox anyway? As I’ve said before, the collective motto of the comments section is “WE DIGRESS!!” (Apologies to Raynard.) Job 19:25-27!

  6. (((Julia)))

  7. Ann H Weldon

    Another amazing photo (ducks and cows at peace with each other!),wonderful quote and your thoughtful comments. This verse from Job 37:14 come to mind…”Stand still, and consider the wondrous works of God”. I cross-stitched this and hung it in my office for years just to remind me when I seem overwhelmed or bothered by all the distractions of life to take a moment to Stand Still.

    • Ann, what a great thought to hang on the wall and hang onto. I so need to stand still more often than I do. I wish I could have sent a panoramic photo that gave the full picture of those critters. They were scattered all along that little waterway and it gave me no end of joy just seeing them there, going about their day and not paying the slightest mind to the humans strolling alongside them, even the occasional person snapping photos of them. BTW the cows were (mostly) doing great at the “standing still” thing, but the ducks were having a splendid time splashing about. A nice contrast.

  8. Entirely agree with this musing and thanks for sharing it in your own fine language. “Hiding in plain sight” is exactly right. Such mysteries and wonders we are given amid the struggles. I know what you mean about time–never enough to gain wisdom and goodness and to enjoy the many treasures here.
    I have been absent a bit since my brother was very ill and then recently passed. But I hope to catch up on your posts or at least remain more current!

    • Cynthia, I am so sorry to learn of your brother’s death. I hope that you will find many comforts as you grieve. I am always happy to see you here, and like you, I have been far too distracted by circumstances lately to catch up on my favorite bloggers. I can’t figure out why that never seems to change, but I suppose I’m still adjusting to a state of flux that I hope will settle into some kind of routine soon. Thanks for being here.

      • Thank you for kindness, Julia. You do have much going on, I suspect. Ah, life as it is…we ought to count blessings that we have opportunities to grow and gain strength in our faith, I know 🙂 I appreciate your being here as well.

        • Cynthia, much is definitely going on! Outwardly I’m staying busy, which is a blessing. Inwardly I’ve been sent reeling by something I should have seen coming but did not– the overwhelming grief of going through this moving process without Jeff. We moved together so many times, each different but each with the familiar rhythms of packing, loading, traveling, unloading, unpacking– that it all just came crashing back to me during the week of the actual move from Alexandria (hopefully I’ll be more prepared for the York portion of the move). “Ah, life as it is…” — perhaps that should be my new mantra! Hope your weekend is full of happy blessings.

  9. Sheila

    Julia, I can’t complain about my busy week because I’m sure yours has been even busier. I’m just so thankful that I can still do the many things required in our day to day of retirement. I can remember at our business watching wives struggle with husband’s wheelchairs or husband’s help a once vivacious wife walk with a new prosthesis. I miss those days where we really did make a difference caring for others and their wellbeing. This is such a beautiful post! I hope all is well with you and Matt. Love crosses the miles. 💛 Sheila

    • Sheila, as you know, I came to have an amazed appreciation of prosthetists during my many weeks staying with Jeff on the Wounded Warrior floor at Walter Reed. YES you really did make a lasting difference in so many lives. Thanks for the much-needed moment of perspective. Can’t wait to get back to our “leisurely” (??!!) Virtual Verandha moments!!

  10. Excellent post, Julia!
    ” Happily, that other worldly goodness is visible in this world, and all we have to do is look for it. It’s hiding in plain sight, one beautiful lesson after another.”
    Goodness is truly all around us. It IS hidden. All one needs to do to find it is to seek the incontestable truth.

    • Thank you, Alan. I’m so happy you liked the post!

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