A thing well done

Drew labors in the August heat making bricks for Colonial Williamsburg, 2005.
All buildings constructed there use bricks made on site by 18th century methods.

“The reward of a thing well done, is to have done it.”Ralph Waldo Emerson

Surviving trauma and loss requires learning how to ride the waves of sorrow that threaten to turn exhaustion into despair and resignation. Despite the ever-increasing use of antidepressants, the efficacy of which has been called into question in several recent studies, most people will battle feelings of sadness or hopelessness at least once or twice in a lifetime. For some of us, it may be a continual struggle.

On the plus side, we have an arsenal full of tools to fight the blues– listening to music, yard work, gardening, crafting, writing, cooking, or visiting a friend who needs or wants to see us, to name only a few. Over the years I’ve found that nothing is a better antidote to depression than actually doing something.

For those who work a full time job, this may be automatic. But for those of us who are retired from regular employment, or who work from home with self-regulated hours, it may be more difficult. Some mornings when I awaken with dread at the thought of getting through another day, I will remind myself to avoid “ruination by rumination” by simply getting up and getting to work on something I want or need to do.

When the task involves strenuous labor, so much the better. But even light activity is remarkably beneficial. Whether or not anyone ever praises your work, it’s edifying to the spirit. Some jobs such as care-giving (or really any sort of ongoing maintenance) are by their very nature almost invisible to others. If we wait around to be noticed, we’ll likely be disappointed. The good news is that Emerson is right; just having done something well is satisfaction enough.

Do you have any nagging tasks hanging over your head, or projects you’re eager to get started on, but just haven’t made the time? Try carving out a bit of time today to begin. If you feel hesitant, promise yourself that you can stop after 30 minutes, or even 15. Chances are you won’t want to, once you get going.

Today, I wish you the reward of a thing well done.


  1. Sheila

    Good Monday morning, Julia and Matt. I think I’m guilty of “out of sight, out of mind”! Bill and I spend majority of our retirement days together and we often refer to each other as “our adoring audience” because we’re IT. The main thing is appreciating each other and acknowledging even small contributions that we make for our betterment. I’ll think of y’all as I putter around this week and imagine you cheering me on! ♥️♥️🎱🏁♥️♥️

    • Sheila, thank you. I love to think of you thinking of us! 😀 And yes, I’m cheering you on, raising a mug of tea in your honor. Hey, having a “mutual admiration society” with your spouse is a wonderful way to live. One of my favorite funny lines, supposedly ascribed to early Quakers, is one I used to say to Jeff all the time: “All the world is mad except for me and thee…and sometimes I wonder about thee.” 😀

  2. Jack

    Action is the antidote for despair, so says Joan Baez. I know little of her musical work but endorse and have been saved much melancholy by taking her at her word. A year or so ago, despite 25+ yrs of being a disciplined and devoted exerciser, I saw the darkness creeping back in, and with good and loving advice from a trusted medical professional (and sister!), I saw a shrink who recommended that I try anti depressant medicine. I think it’s helped, but prefer to live free of the drugs and alcohol that consumed me, even as I was gainfully employed, healthy at least physiologically. I’m not sure what to do, but know enough to keep moving physically and spiritually. I think a little blueness is a normal part of the human experience

    • Jack, I agree with you that sadness is part of humanity, and denying it or running from it is counterproductive. That doesn’t mean wallowing in it (and I applaud you for recognizing that sometimes various forms of help are needed to address it), but realizing what we are up against is the first step toward being able to overcome it. One of the earliest posts I ever wrote deals with the necessity of acknowledging the darkness as well as the light. Exercise has always been helpful for me too, but lately I have sadly neglected it. I took a walk today for the first time in a long time. It was perfect weather for it. Hope this finds you feeling great or at least OK.

  3. Great advice, Julia. I’ve been struggling with that all week. I start out my day with the best of intentions and then just sit and do nothing. I have a full social schedule this week so buckling down to work just never quite gets there but I still take my walks at least 4 days a week somewhere. We are all, I think, having a harder time these days than usual. Maybe it’s the season. I wish you well and happiness. Hugs.

    • Marlene, I can identify. It seems the older I grow, the more power inertia seems to exert on me. I’m glad you are walking. I’ve not been doing that since Jeff died, and I can really tell a difference in so many aspects of well-being. But it’s so hard to get motivated. Today was beautiful so I walked about a mile, for the first time in a very long time. I used to walk 5 miles a day, every day, no matter the weather year round. That time of my life seems like a distant dream now, thought it was less than a dozen years ago. I hope to gradually work up to maybe 2 miles per day. Thinking of you with lots of love, and sending giant hugs your way. ❤

  4. Chris

    Well said, Julia! ‘Ruination by rumination’ probably weighs on all of us from time to time. And I agree, if the proverbial shoe fits, then “Just Do It”! ✔️ 😊
    Have a great week! 🎃

    • Thank you, Chris. Some days I have more initiative than others, but my mind will nag my spirit when necessary. 😀 Hope you are having a great week too.

  5. Connie Reed

    Great blog Julia! I have always been a big believer in when you are at your lowest in life, that the simple act of doing for someone else is a cure all. Works every time!

    • Connie, it really does, doesn’t it? When I remember our mothers, I most think of how they were never idle. Always doing something for family, church, community. They set us a good example and they did it all without microwaves, computers or sometimes even without cars of their own, and usually with smiles on their faces. Makes me smile just to think of them smiling.

      • Constance W Reed

        Thank you for reminding me of those happy memories!

        • ❤ 🙂 ❤

  6. Perfect! I have awakened with burdensome/negative thoughts due to various difficulties the past months, yet find it harder to get up right away. When I do, in a few minutes, I am already moving in a better direction. Yes, action quiets those trying and redundant thoughts. I think God wants us to seek and listen to Him even more then–though any mood should not stand in our way of communication with Divine Love….and so, prayer always finally saves me from my self and the frequent, even ubiquitous drear of this world. Nice post, Julia!

    • Cynthia, what is it about morning that is so hard? I wake up with such sadness/worry/resentment/dread most mornings. But as you say, the day does wonders to dispel that peculiar form of gloom. It’s strange because I so look forward to sleep, and sometimes actually sleep pretty well, but starting the day is still difficult. I too find great solace in prayer. I long ago got past the fear of being “real” in voicing my dismay to God. Sometimes I talk to God the way Tevye does. I love the humor and connection of his ongoing conversation with the Divine!

  7. Gah, depression, yes it’s had it’s ugly grip on me at times and so many I know and love. I hope you recognize that you’re not alone, although you most certainly would feel that way. That’s the thing about it. We naturally feel alone and isolated. You know, I saw a father on the news who had just learned he’d lost his young son in that California shooting. Of course he was distraught and I sobbed too. The pain was so great, clearly is was more than he could bare. Later that day, the thoughts of his immense heartache had me wondering how he was doing. I suppose I’ll never know, but I hoped he’d get help dealing with the loss. It’s just too much to manage. I personally think we just aren’t naturally equipped with the right tools. Keep moving and doing Julia, you’re on the right train of thought with that. xo K

    • K, I agree we aren’t naturally equipped with the right tools, because such losses are very UN-natural. It’s hard enough when an elderly person dies after living many decades, but when people die long before what we now think of as a ripe old age, there’s something that feels out of sync about it even when the person is a stranger. How much more catastrophic when it is one’s own family member, or when the loss is due to a senseless act of violence. Yet all around us we see people who pick up from such losses and go on. Just recently I met an older widow who told me of her own history, and it’s one I don’t think I could have survived. I asked her how she survived it all and she said “by the grace of God, you just keep going.” I hope the man you saw, and all who are struck with such blows, are able to find those who have been there and survived and understand.

  8. MaryAnn Clontz

    “…nagging tasks hanging over your head”
    My dear, there are many! Most nagging is my home office. It has become PILES of things-to-do! A daunting task, leaning toward staggering! I have decided to treat it like a job: “punch-in/punch-out”. Maybe 3 to 4 hours each day to get a handle on where things are located. HELP! Okay, I’ve now written my assignment. I will PRAY for diligence, strength & progress.
    LOVE this photo of Drew.
    Hug Matt for me!
    (Just wrote out this “assignment” on 4X6 card, placed on bulletin board! Thanks for encouraging me!)

    • Mary Ann, this comment is one I could have written about myself, almost word for word. From reading a great many books on organization (mostly for motivation, as many of them say the same things) I have figured out that these little to-do piles, particularly paperwork piles, are seemingly a fixture of modern life for most people. But it can be so demoralizing to see how they seemingly never end. It’s darkly humorous to remember how digital scanning, when it first became common back in the late 1980’s, claimed we would soon have “paperless offices” and “paperless homes.” NOT! About the only “benefit” is that now, many businesses outsource the time and cost of printing to customers, sending them digital documents they must then print out and complete at home prior to meeting– for example, before medical appointments. GRRR! “Diligence, strength & progress”– may we all experience these assets in 2019!

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