That’s why I recommend it

I photographed Alfred Stevens' Le Bain at the Louvre in August 2005. (Artwork is in the common domain.)

I photographed Alfred Stevens’ “Le Bain” at the Louvre in August 2005.
(Artwork is in the common domain.)

“People often tell me that motivation doesn’t last, and I tell them that bathing doesn’t either.  That’s why I recommend it daily.”Zig Ziglar

I hope it’s obvious why I like this quote.  As I’ve often said, this blog is my own way of forcing myself to focus on the positive things and be grateful for blessings that are always there even in times of great sorrow.  But I could do that in a private journal; why a blog?

For the answer to that question, just read the comments; it’s YOU!  Through blogging I have “met” more people all over the world than I ever dreamed possible, and have been the happy recipient of so many kind words, deep thoughts, interesting exchanges and pure fun.  As with so many valuable experiences, motivation is always more powerful when shared.

In sharing my thoughts and photos, I hope to help others and I always feel happy when someone tells me a post has been beneficial for them.  But one thing is certain; I have gotten back far more than I have given.

So thanks for being here, and being part of my day!  I hope you will find some motivation here, but if not, I just know you can find it elsewhere in the blogosphere, where optimism, big hearts, and sympathetic understanding are available in abundance.  And if you don’t care for blogging, just visit with a friend in person.  People make life worthwhile, and taking a few minutes to check in with people we care about can lift our own spirits as well as theirs.

Motivation is easy to find if you look for it.  And I recommend looking for it daily!

One year ago today:

Unless we share

This post was first published seven years ago today. The original post, comments and photo are linked, along with two other related posts, below. These links to related posts, and their thumbnail photos, do not appear in the blog feed; they are only visible when viewing the individual posts by clicking on each one. I have no idea why, nor do I know how they choose the related posts. That’s just the way WordPress does things.

More enjoyable

Cameron + Whitney + Momba + Matt = INSTANT PARTY! Fairfield, California, August 2003

Cameron + Whitney + Momba + Matt = INSTANT PARTY! (Momba + anyone = instant party)
Fairfield, California, August 2003

“You seldom come across anything more enjoyable than a happy person.”
Frank A. Clark

When I told Jeff I wanted to use this quote in a post, I asked him if he could think of any photos that would go with it.  He immediately responded, “Have you got one of Momba?”

“Yes, I have a whole bunch of photos of Momba — and actually, I have been intending to feature one of her for a long time.”  Well, that was easy!

“Momba” is the affectionate nickname the kids at our church in California called our friend Mary Ann.  Those who read the blog comments regularly have seen her sunny, generous and supportive contributions here often.  You may recall that she is the one who explained to me what a “street machine” is.  Yes, this grandmother is a biker — no wonder she enjoys life!

But Mary Ann is so much more. She’s a woman of great faith who always finds the positive side of any situation.  It’s no wonder Jeff thought of her first when I read the quote about “happy,” even though we have not seen her in nearly ten years!

I’m sure there are people you know who come to mind when you read this quote.  Chances are, you may be smiling just thinking about them.  See how much a happy person blesses the world?

I wish I could claim to be such a person, but I’m afraid “happy” is not the first word that comes to people’s minds when they think of me.  Still, I appreciate happiness in others, and I try to imitate them.  I want to smile as much as I am able, particularly when I see someone who obviously needs to see a smiling face.

As with other virtues, happiness is really more a decision than an emotion.  It’s almost like a habit, one I want to cultivate.  One of the best ways to do it is to surround myself with people who understand that life is a blessing, and joy is there for the taking if we know how to find it. I’m grateful to know people like Mary Ann, and I wish you many such people in your life!

One year ago today:

A light from within

This post was first published seven years ago today. The original post, comments and photo are linked, along with two other related posts, below. These links to related posts, and their thumbnail photos, do not appear in the blog feed; they are only visible when viewing the individual posts by clicking on each one. I have no idea why, nor do I know how they choose the related posts. That’s just the way WordPress does things.

Press forward

At Monticello, as elsewhere, Jefferson never ran out of ideas for improvement. Photographed in June 2014

At Monticello, as elsewhere, Jefferson never realized all his ideals for improvement.
Photographed in June 2014

“The ground of liberty is to be gained by inches. We must be contented to secure what we can get from time to time and eternally press forward for what is yet to get. It takes time to persuade men to do even what is for their own good.”
Thomas Jefferson

A quote attributed to Yogi Berra is “I never said most of the things I said.”  Thomas Jefferson might say the same thing if he were alive today, so I looked this one up and this is straight out of his published writings.  Which assumes, of course, that the publisher’s historical sources can be trusted!  In any case, the point remains a valid one today, well over two hundred years later.

If the ground of liberty is gained by inches, it also can be lost by inches.  But as Jefferson admits, attaining a desirable state is an ongoing effort that will never reach perfection.  Thus he wisely counsels patience and contentment, coupled with diligent and unrelenting attention.  I think that’s an interesting and difficult combination to sustain for very long.

Of course, Jefferson was not always good at taking his own advice.  How else could a man who argued against slavery be a slaveholder, or one who pontificated on the importance of honesty and integrity nonetheless father unacknowledged children by one of those enslaved women?  How could a man who warned repeatedly against debt die so insolvent as to leave his heirs unable to keep his estate?

Apparently, he is a prime example of how often we fail to live up to what we know to be right.  This underscores the need for a combination of patience and diligence.  Whether it’s our country, our family or ourselves, we will be happier if we continue to hope and work for improvement, while recognizing our own fallibility and bearing with each other when we give it our best and still fall short.

As this Independence Day weekend draws to a close, I wish you a renewed awareness of our collective accomplishments AND responsibilities, whether your citizenship is in the U.S.A. or elsewhere.  Celebrate the large and small victories, and press forward!

One year ago today:

Achieved, not bestowed

This post was first published seven years ago today. The original post, comments and photo are linked, along with two other related posts, below. These links to related posts, and their thumbnail photos, do not appear in the blog feed; they are only visible when viewing the individual posts by clicking on each one. I have no idea why, nor do I know how they choose the related posts. That’s just the way WordPress does things.

This realm of freedom

The Battle of Cowpens as depicted by William Ranney, along with a profile of formerly enslaved poet Phillis Wheatley. (Images in the public domain)

(Left) The Battle of Cowpens by William Ranney;
(Right) Formerly enslaved poet Phillis Wheatley.
(Images in the public domain)

“Perish that Thirst of boundless Power, that drew
On Albion’s Head the Curse to Tyrants Due.
But thou appeas’d submit to Heaven’s decree,
That bids this Realm of Freedom rival thee!
Now sheathe the Sword that bade the Brave attone
With guiltless Blood for Madness not their own.”

Phillis Wheatley, from the poem “Liberty and Peace”

As do many others, I tend to think mostly of New England and Virginia when I think about the American Revolution. Yet a lesser-known battle in South Carolina has been described as the psychological turning point of the war, laying the groundwork for the siege at Yorktown.  In describing the Battle of Cowpens, John Marshall wrote, “Seldom has a battle, in which greater numbers were not engaged, been so important in its consequences as that of Cowpens.”

Life is full of unheralded people and less-famous events that nonetheless exert a powerful influence on how history unfolds.  Ranney’s painting of the engagement at Cowpens depicts an unnamed bugler, believed to have been African-American, saving the life of Colonel William Washington by shooting his British attacker near the end of the battle.  For every historic deed of bravery or moment of victory that we remember and celebrate, there are thousands of unknown moments and unnamed heroes, fragments of human drama that are never recorded.

Whenever you next find yourself at one of the many town square monuments that honor local people who died in wars, take a few minutes to reflect on the centuries that led up to where we are today.  Almost all of us can say “I have it much easier now, than they had it then.” During this weekend of fireworks, picnics, holidays and recreation, let’s honor the everyday people who made it all possible.

One year ago today:

The torch of freedom

This post was first published seven years ago today. The original post, comments and photo are linked, along with two other related posts, below. These links to related posts, and their thumbnail photos, do not appear in the blog feed; they are only visible when viewing the individual posts by clicking on each one. I have no idea why, nor do I know how they choose the related posts. That’s just the way WordPress does things.

Out of confusion

The U.S. flag flying at Roanoke Island, North Carolina, September2013

The U.S. flag flying at Roanoke Island, North Carolina, September 2013

“I feel anxious for the fate of our Monarchy or Democracy or what ever is to take place. I soon get lost in a Labyrinth of perplexities, but whatever occurs, may justice and righteousness be the Stability of our times, and order arise out of confusion. Great difficulties may be surmounted, by patience and perseverance.”
Abigail Adams

One year ago today, in honor of America’s birthday, I featured a quote from my personal favorite of the “founding fathers,” John Adams, along with a video clip from the HBO series about him.  Today’s quote is from his eloquent and formidable wife Abigail, arguably as influential in her own way, if only because of the vital role she played in the development of her husband’s career, intellect and philosophy.

The letter to her husband from which this quote is drawn (the text and image of which is linked above) was written near the end of November, 1775, less than a year before the Declaration of Independence was ratified.  In her letter, Adams raises valid questions and concerns about the enormous implications of the steps toward self-government that the colonies were taking.  While there seems little doubt that she shared her husband’s enthusiasm for independence, one cannot read her letter without realizing she was keenly aware that their ongoing efforts were fraught with danger, even after they succeeded in their goals.

The most interesting thing to me about Adams’ letter is how timeless her concerns are.  So many of the perils of power she mentions are with us to this day, and “a labyrinth of perplexities” is an excellent description of the current dilemmas our country faces regarding health care, foreign policy, immigration law, economic and environmental issues, and almost anything subject to government legislation.

Of course, it’s not only governments that face such complicated problems.  On a much smaller scale, our individual daily lives can be pretty challenging too.  Most of us frequently deal with complex and difficult decision-making.  No wonder we are often too overwhelmed with our own concerns to be very involved in politics, even when we care deeply about the outcome of governmental actions.

Ever practical as well as stubbornly optimistic, Adams pinpoints four vital keys to overcoming difficulties large and small: justice, righteousness, patience and perseverance.  Looking closely at the history of the United States, one can see these four traits have been the foundation of whatever good has been achieved by our country, even when such achievements took decades or centuries to fully realize, or are yet imperfect.  Though I’m less familiar with the history of other countries, I would not be surprised if a similar dynamic appeared to be at work everywhere in the world.

Happy 238th Birthday to the U.S.A! May the wise words of our first citizens remind us that there are some principles that never change, regardless of what circumstances we face.  With patience and perseverance, we can keep moving forward.

One year ago today:

Through all the gloom

This post was first published seven years ago today. The original post, comments and photo are linked, along with two other related posts, below. These links to related posts, and their thumbnail photos, do not appear in the blog feed; they are only visible when viewing the individual posts by clicking on each one. I have no idea why, nor do I know how they choose the related posts. That’s just the way WordPress does things.

Outwardly and inwardly

Visiting the lovely Montalvo Arts Center with Jeff was a perfect blend of living inwardly and outwardly. Saratoga, California, February 2004

Visiting lovely Montalvo Arts Center with Jeff was a perfect blend of inner joy and outer fun.
Saratoga, California, February 2004

“To live fully, outwardly and inwardly, not to ignore the external reality for the sake of the inner life, or the reverse, that’s quite a task.”Etty Hillesum

Of all the frustrations I feel about time constraints, perhaps none is greater than wishing I had the time to stay in closer touch with so many people who mean so much to me.  Computers have enabled us to do this in a quicker but sometimes less personal way, and I long to send (and receive) good old-fashioned postal mail.

I also wish I had more face-to-face fun time with friends — and I bet you do too.  And more time spent just enjoying my family.  Or the ability to visit relatives who live far away, and catch up on what is happening with my aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews.  On and on I could go.

Yet I also crave more time alone, to get things done, to read, do crafts, pray, meditate or just sit and savor being alive.  With so many blessings to be found outwardly and inwardly, it’s difficult to strike the right balance.  Too much time with others (even when much of it takes place through fairly solitary means such as computer time and postal letters) leaves me feeling overstimulated, distracted and vaguely worried about undone tasks that are piling up.  Too much time alone, even if spent productively, can lead to rumination and a feeling of isolation.

My friend Jeanie once said that her idea of heaven would be the ability to love as completely and fully as she longed to do on earth, without being bound by time, logistics or other human constraints that can separate us from each other.  I hope that dream is coming true for her now, and I agree that it’s a wonderful thought.

Meanwhile, we all face daily the challenge of using our time wisely and well, living fully in both our inner and outer lives, so that one reflects, supports and enriches the other.  Do you find it easier to prioritize time alone, or time with others?  How do you strike the right balance, and how do you know when you need to shift gears?

One year ago today:

A safety place

This post was first published seven years ago today. The original post, comments and photo are linked, along with two other related posts, below. These links to related posts, and their thumbnail photos, do not appear in the blog feed; they are only visible when viewing the individual posts by clicking on each one. I have no idea why, nor do I know how they choose the related posts. That’s just the way WordPress does things.

No beauty without pain

Drew, Matt and Jeff in St. Pierre, Martinique, June 1998

Drew, Matt and Jeff in St. Pierre, Martinique, June 1998

“If we’re lucky we have a long time to consider what beauty means. One thing I know: there is no beauty without pain. Beauty flourishes on sorrow. It’s enriched by the knowledge that life is fleeting, sometimes cruel, and often ends without resolution.”
Diane Keaton

One of my favorite spots in the Caribbean is the beautiful island of Martinique.  Perhaps it’s the influence of that French aesthetic savoir faire that makes it such an attractive place, but what I remember most about the island is our visit to the volcanic ruins of St. Pierre.

Once the largest town on the island, St. Pierre was called “the Paris of the Caribbean” before its sudden destruction from the eruption of Mount Pelée in 1902.  Though there had been warning signals, the nearly 30,000 people who died that day assumed they would have time to escape if lava flows began.

No one anticipated the pyroclastic juggernaut that traveled, according to estimates, 420 miles per hour to engulf the entire town in less than a minute.  The only person in the heart of the city who survived was a felon imprisoned in an underground cell.  Hundreds on the fringes of the town, and even passengers in ships docked nearby, fell prey to the encompassing disaster.

When we visited St. Pierre less than 100 years later to view the ruins, it was a gorgeous place, hauntingly serene and peaceful.  The mountain in the distance appeared breathtakingly scenic and benign.  Even the charred ruins of the town had a singular appeal, with fresh green plants and vines growing atop many of the remaining walls and structures.

How unspeakably horrifying the infernal destruction must have been.  How beautiful that spot is today, with the ruins preserved as an ongoing memorial of those who perished, and the lush Caribbean foliage and mountain providing a stunning backdrop for a tragic story.

I agree with Keaton; beauty is never without pain, and in fact, often comes as a direct result of some sort of suffering. It’s a paradox never adequately explained by human logic, which is one reason I believe the understanding of it lies hidden in a divine mystery we’re not fully capable of comprehending.  We are, however, capable of treasuring the gifts that come out of tragedy, even as we acknowledge and commemorate those who were injured or lost.

There are some who find no consolation in such thoughts, and some who can see beauty in pain only when time heals some measure of the sorrow.  Yet often, even bitterness can be redeemed as it is transformed into compassion and help for others who face such trials.  When we are called to observe or endure suffering, may we find the means to act in love toward those who need us, becoming part of a slowly emerging landscape of survival, blessing and grace.

One year ago today:

Dear earth

This post was first published seven years ago today. The original post, comments and photo are linked, along with two other related posts, below. These links to related posts, and their thumbnail photos, do not appear in the blog feed; they are only visible when viewing the individual posts by clicking on each one. I have no idea why, nor do I know how they choose the related posts. That’s just the way WordPress does things.

The past belongs

The past is yours to enjoy, and you can visit it anytime at a library, book store, antique shop or attic near you! This antique store is in North Carolina.  September 2013

The past is yours to enjoy! Visit it soon at a library, book store, antique shop or attic nearby.
This antique store is in North Carolina. September 2013

“It’s not that I belong to the past, but the past belongs to me.”Mary Antin

We can only wonder about the future, but in a very real sense, the past does belong to us.  Not only our own individual past, but the entire past, all of recorded history and much of unrecorded history as well, which we seen in rocks, trees, mountains and seas.

From our personal histories we have memories, both ours and those of our relatives: family stories, favorite recipes and esoteric traditions.  From our collective history we have unlimited wealth to mine — lessons on what to do, what not to do, fascinating lives, romances, horror stories, mysteries and suspense.  Exploring history, we learn how many things have changed…and how much will never really change, except in the details.

Those of us who love vintage styles, antique books, and heirloom jewelry, flatware or china have been “collecting” bits of the past, literally and figuratively, for years.  But if you are one who never cared for history, think about looking at it in a different way.  Go prowling in the attic of long ago, and you might find some treasures worth keeping.

One year ago today:

Read history

This post was first published seven years ago today. The original post, comments and photo are linked, along with two other related posts, below. These links to related posts, and their thumbnail photos, do not appear in the blog feed; they are only visible when viewing the individual posts by clicking on each one. I have no idea why, nor do I know how they choose the related posts. That’s just the way WordPress does things.

Arise in the morning

Pasha in April 2005, a week before his eighth birthday.

Pasha in April 2005, already turning a bit grey just before his eighth birthday.

“When you arise in the morning think of what a privilege it is to be alive, to think, to enjoy, to love …”Marcus Aurelius

When I looked back at the post that was published one year ago today (written exactly one week before it was published) I was surprised to find that I had made casual mention of having been out for a walk with Pasha the previous evening.  I had no way of knowing when I wrote that post that he would die less than a week later on the morning it published.

Seeing the post again recently and realizing for the first time that my blissful ignorance of his coming death was documented on the day we lost him, I felt happy that he was able to enjoy almost every minute until he was no longer able to draw breath.

Mornings are very hard for me, but they were Pasha’s favorite time of the day. Normally rather sedate (unusually so for a Schipperke, we were often told), Pasha was full of lively joy in the mornings, and it was contagious enough that he always made it a bit easier for me to get up.  I really miss that friendly morning greeting each day.

On New Year’s Eve in 2011, for reasons I have now forgotten, I had my camera in hand when Jeff sent Pasha upstairs to summon me for breakfast.   I decided to make a brief video of what was a fairly typical Pasha morning, and though I was not able to capture one of the full-fledged romps he used to enjoy with Jeff, I did catch enough of it to give you an idea how Pasha would celebrate those York mornings.

It’s amazing to me to watch this and realize he was over 14½ years old when this was filmed.  He was truly a canine “senior citizen” by then, but what energy and zest! It’s been one year ago today that he left us, and though we hope to adopt another dog when our lives stabilize a bit, there will only ever be one Pasha.  We miss him, and we always will.

Chances are you have at least one animal friend who gave, or still gives, the kind of companionship that is rich with the best life lessons, short on lectures but long on fun.  I wish you happy memories of them today!

One year ago today:

The mystic moon

This post was first published seven years ago today. The original post, comments and photo are linked, along with two other related posts, below. These links to related posts, and their thumbnail photos, do not appear in the blog feed; they are only visible when viewing the individual posts by clicking on each one. I have no idea why, nor do I know how they choose the related posts. That’s just the way WordPress does things.

This bequest of wings

Quai d'Orléans Paris -- Photo courtesy of Moonik (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Quai d’Orléans Paris — Photo by Moonik (CC BY-SA 3.0)

“He ate and drank the precious words,
His spirit grew robust;
He knew no more that he was poor,
Nor that his frame was dust.
He danced along the dingy days,
And this bequest of wings
Was but a book. What liberty
A loosened spirit brings!”
Emily Dickinson

If you are reading this blog, it means you have at least one precious gift: literacy.  We tend to take it for granted, but throughout history, there have been eras where literacy belonged only to select groups.  Even today, there are still many people all over the world who are unable to read freely due to inadequate education, mental or physical disability, political oppression, lack of accessible reading material, or other obstacles to learning.

Today, whatever your circumstances or difficulties, I encourage you to celebrate your ability to read.  Take a few minutes to read something inspiring and set your spirit free from whatever is troubling it.  If you are able to do so, you can spread the gift of literacy by supporting your public library, volunteering with local tutoring programs, or simply by sharing the joy of reading with someone else in need of encouragement.

Although Dickinson chose a cloistered life, her poetry is a testimony to the freedom reading can bring into the life of even the most isolated among us.  I hope this bequest of wings will enable you to fly today!

One year ago today:

A garden and a library

This post was first published seven years ago today. The original post, comments and photo are linked, along with two other related posts, below. These links to related posts, and their thumbnail photos, do not appear in the blog feed; they are only visible when viewing the individual posts by clicking on each one. I have no idea why, nor do I know how they choose the related posts. That’s just the way WordPress does things.

Always June

Grady celebrates his first June with MeMe and PaPa at the Virginia Beach Boardwalk, 2014.

Grady celebrates his first June with MeMe and PaPa at the Virginia Beach Boardwalk, 2014.

“I wonder what it would be like to live in a world where it was always June…I feel that it would take me a long time to get tired of it, if it were all as charming as today.”
L. M. Montgomery

There’s a good reason Anne’s sunny personality has won the hearts of so many readers for over 100 years now.  And who can disagree with her about June?  I’m guessing that even in the southern hemisphere it’s an agreeable time, more temperate than the months that follow.

We can only wonder with Anne what a perpetual June might be like.  I suppose the closest we’ve come to it was during the years we lived in Hawaii, but even there, we learned to recognize that there were seasonal changes to enjoy.

For Anne (and for us here in Virginia) June is definitely worth celebrating– and you still have a couple of days more to do it.  I hope you can take a few minutes today to savor whatever the climate might be bringing your way.  Whether your June is bringing you carpets of green grass, sunshine, flowers, wind, rain, or something else I haven’t mentioned, I hope today is the charming kind of day that you’d not tire of for a long time.

One year ago today:

So rare

This post was first published seven years ago today. The original post, comments and photo are linked, along with two other related posts, below. These links to related posts, and their thumbnail photos, do not appear in the blog feed; they are only visible when viewing the individual posts by clicking on each one. I have no idea why, nor do I know how they choose the related posts. That’s just the way WordPress does things.

No way to say no

Sunrise over La Palma, Spain. Photo courtesy of Luc Viatour http://www.lucnix.be/

Sunrise over La Palma, Spain.
Photo courtesy of Luc Viatour   http://www.lucnix.be/

And it’s going to be a day
There is really no way to say no
to the morning

Yes it’s going to be a day
There is really nothing left to say
But come on morning    Dan Fogelberg

This verse is from  “To the Morning,” the first Dan Fogelberg song I ever loved, recorded in Nashville just two years before I moved there for college.  It remains my favorite of his songs to this day, though there are many that are dear to my heart.  More than anything else he sings, this one moves me to tears, especially during the beautiful orchestration near the end.

I listen to it now, to the wistful sound of music that is beautiful yet deeply touched with sadness, and wonder how on earth it spoke to me so many years ago when there were seemingly no real problems in my life.  But listening to it brings back a time when my future was a giant question mark, when I had no idea what to expect in the years to come, and when I often felt alone, longing for a place I belonged.

From the beginning, what touched me most about the song was its admission that days can be hard to face, seasons change, and love often hurts.  Yet the sun continues to rise, and life goes on.  I think we understand this on some level, even from an early age.

During the most difficult periods of my life, when I awaken and dread getting out of bed, the words and music of this song often play in my mind, encouraging me to embrace the inevitable, and give thanks for it.  Even when my heart is not in it, it helps to remember that there is really no way to say no to the morning.

One year ago today:

When there is nothing

This post was first published seven years ago today. The original post, comments and photo are linked, along with two other related posts, below. These links to related posts, and their thumbnail photos, do not appear in the blog feed; they are only visible when viewing the individual posts by clicking on each one. I have no idea why, nor do I know how they choose the related posts. That’s just the way WordPress does things.

 

An extra

Flowers are beautifully unnecessary, and therefore intriguingly profound.  August 2005

Flowers are beautifully unnecessary, and therefore intriguingly profound. August 2005

“Our highest assurance of the goodness of Providence seems to me to rest in the flowers. All other things, our powers, our desires, our food, are all really necessary for our existence in the first instance. But this rose is an extra. Its smell and its color are an embellishment of life, not a condition of it. It is only goodness which gives extras, and so I say again that we have much to hope from the flowers.”
Arthur Conan Doyle

It’s comforting to know that even the brilliant Sherlock Holmes was taken aback by the beauty of flowers.  As always, his logic is flawless, even when applied to something that defies logic.  Here, he admits that the rose is a gift of divine grace, an embellishment of life that speaks of hope for greater things.

Whenever you are beset with gloom, remember the words of Holmes.  We have much to hope from the flowers.

One year ago today:

To flowers

This post was first published seven years ago today. The original post, comments and photo are linked, along with two other related posts, below. These links to related posts, and their thumbnail photos, do not appear in the blog feed; they are only visible when viewing the individual posts by clicking on each one. I have no idea why, nor do I know how they choose the related posts. That’s just the way WordPress does things.

The light of the past

Grady sees his Dad through the glass of his grandparents' window, March 2014.

Grady sees his Dad through the glass of his great-grandparents’ window, March 2014.

“…everything is illuminated in the light of the past. It is always along the side of us…on the inside, looking out.”Jonathan Safran Foer

I think it’s interesting that the rapidly accelerating understanding of genetics is co-occurring with an increase in hobbies related to ancestry.  Scrapbooking, photography, genealogy, cultural studies, family reunions and organized efforts to record and document oral family histories are all around us.

It’s partly due to increased leisure time, of course, along with the advances in technology that make research and discovery more feasible than ever before. But I think it goes beyond all that.  Most all of us, whether or not we realize it, are deeply connected to our family history.

We may know relatively little of our ancestors beyond the past few generations.  But it’s a safe bet that almost everyone’s family tree features a dazzlingly diverse cast of characters, if only because of the way the numbers multiply so rapidly with each backward generation.  Two parents, four grandparents, eight great-grandparents, 16 great-great grandparents, and so on, with countless aunts, uncles, and cousins into the mix.

All (or almost all) of us, if we look far enough into our family trees, come from a mixture of many different races, religions, nationalities, cultures, personality types, ability levels, occupations and ambitions.  Some lived long, though difficult, lives (mere survival in past generations was challenging, even for the privileged, compared to today). Others never enjoyed good health and died at ages that seem tragically young to us.

Some were holy, some profane; most were somewhere in between.  Some owned businesses, some worked in fields, forests or factories.  Some wore suits or dresses, some wore chains.  Some were creative and artistic, some diligent and methodical, some logical and analytical, and some a potent mixture of all of these things.

I don’t think the past determines who we are.  I do think, though, that it casts a long shadow; that the influence of our ancestors lives on, in minute ways we cannot fully understand, and lasts for generations. Do you know much about your ancestors?  I’d love to hear about them!

For me, it’s fun to wonder about past generations of whom we know only a few intriguing details, and even more fun to imagine those that we will never know about.  Though we are seldom aware of it, each of us figuratively sees the world today in a light that, like rays of the sun, came from long ago and far away.

One year ago today:

It still matters

This post was first published seven years ago today. The original post, comments and photo are linked, along with two other related posts, below. These links to related posts, and their thumbnail photos, do not appear in the blog feed; they are only visible when viewing the individual posts by clicking on each one. I have no idea why, nor do I know how they choose the related posts. That’s just the way WordPress does things.

Out there, waiting

One of many faraway places I dream of visiting - again, or for the first time? Can anyone guess where this is?

One of many faraway places I dream of visiting – again, or for the first time?
Can anyone guess where this is?

“They say no land remains to be discovered, no continent is left unexplored. But the whole world is out there, waiting, just waiting for me…”Lisa Ann Sandell

There’s a popular saying about never being able to step into the same river twice, presumably because the river is ever-changing.  If so, we can never visit the same place twice, in the absolute sense of the word “same.”

This is both a blessing and a frustration…so many places, so little time!  And almost everywhere I go, I find myself saying “We’ll have to come back here sometime when we have more time…”  Ah, that most frequently cited delusion: “someday when there is more time.”

In any case, it’s no wonder that travel is such an alluring prospect to so many of us.  As I often tell Jeff, it takes a mighty special place to be worth leaving home to visit.  But the world is full of such special places, worth seeing again and again.  And don’t get me started about all the interesting people one could see in all these places!

As accustomed as you may be to your own home, the international community online means that at least a few of the people who read this might think of your home town, state or country as a dream destination or ideal place to visit.  If you’d like to send some photos from your home to share, I will be happy to post them here, so we can cyber-visit there for a few seconds.  The wonderful world of blogging has enabled many of us to tour the globe from home.

Whether you visit in real life or only in your imagination, I wish you the chance to enjoy many faraway places with strange-sounding names!

One year ago today:

And then there is…

This post was first published seven years ago today. The original post, comments and photo are linked, along with two other related posts, below. These links to related posts, and their thumbnail photos, do not appear in the blog feed; they are only visible when viewing the individual posts by clicking on each one. I have no idea why, nor do I know how they choose the related posts. That’s just the way WordPress does things.

Beautiful and terrible

Jeff with Drew at Key West, Florida, winter 1986

Jeff with Drew at Key West, Florida, winter 1986

“Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.”
Frederick Buechner

That’s it in a nutshell, isn’t it? It might seem contradictory to affirm that terrible things will happen, yet advise against fear.  But I think there is a difference between feeling fear occasionally (or even often) versus being afraid.  As discussed in a recent post, there can be no real courage without fear.  Being courageous in spite of fear is what Buechner may have been getting at.

We’ve all known people who seem consumed by anxiety; whose major choices and daily lives are based on caution and self-preservation above all else. While it’s understandable, it’s also regrettable to think of the costs of such a defensive orientation, both to others who are denied what such people might have been able to give, and to the protected self that is closed off from  joys available to bolder spirits.

If we allow fear to paralyze us, we will miss the beauty.  It’s a worthy goal to see things as they are– both beautiful and terrible– and yet refuse to live in fear.  So here, today, is the world– your world.  I wish you appreciation of the beautiful and courage amid the terrible.

One year ago today:

Brilliantly disguised

This post was first published seven years ago today. The original post, comments and photo are linked, along with two other related posts, below. These links to related posts, and their thumbnail photos, do not appear in the blog feed; they are only visible when viewing the individual posts by clicking on each one. I have no idea why, nor do I know how they choose the related posts. That’s just the way WordPress does things.

The small daily differences

A few grains at a time, this tiny sand crab dug an impressive hole. Dam Neck, Virginia, June 2014

A few grains at a time, this tiny sand crab dug an impressive hole.
Dam Neck, Virginia, June 2014

“We must not, in trying to think about how we can make a big difference, ignore the small daily differences we can make which, over time, add up to big differences that we often cannot foresee.”Marian Wright Edelman

Years ago, during a baseball game when the opposing team kept making small, unexciting advances that led to a big gap in the score, I remember one announcer saying “this is like being nibbled to death by gnats.”  That phrase really stuck with me, because sometimes it seems that 90% of my life (and 99% of my daily time) consists of trivial details.

Just a few examples that may be familiar to you: phone calls to schedule, change or confirm appointments– and thanks to robot callers, I get endless reminder calls for these appointments.  Junk advertising in the U. S. mail, email, or annoying flyers left at the door to blow all over our yards, leaving us to retrieve and recycle them.  Beds to make, breakfast to prepare, bathrooms to clean (or babies to change).  Broken appliances, broken nails, broken promises from handymen who said they’d get right back to us with an estimate.  Do you ever wish just ONE contact would be enough to take care of a seemingly simple matter?

Sometimes it all adds up to a day that exhausts me without leaving me the satisfaction of feeling that I’ve made any real progress on anything that matters.  Then I lose more time to fretting and fuming, distracted and discontent.

At such times I have to remind myself that the process also works the other way around.  As surely as continual small demands eat into our time, so tiny fragments of things accomplished add up too, whether we see it or not.  I might not have gotten anything big done today, but perhaps the dozens of little things I got done aren’t as insignificant as they seem now.  Life, after all, is mostly maintenance, and somebody has to do it.

I think it’s wise to evaluate and re-evaluate where we spend our time, and eliminate whatever “busywork” we can.  But in the end, there will still be a lot of nagging details to attend to.  We can’t very well ignore medical appointments, bills, or essential things that get broken. We’ll always have to spend some time on tasks we aren’t particularly thrilled to be doing.

But we can do these things with a (forced) smile and some fun music in the background, and reward ourselves with a cup of tea after we knock out a few repetitive obligations.  We also  can explore ways to use small gaps of time to address more important things.  In just a few minutes, we can call a loved one who is ill or lonely, send a quick thank-you to a thoughtful person who’s made a difference for us, or make time to appreciate something lovely in our world – a flower, a bird, a favorite photo of someone special.

Most of all, we can remind ourselves not to take too seriously the movies about superheroes who save the world with amazing feats of strength.  In reality, although we all long to do great things, we are mostly called to do little things, again and again, over long periods of time.  This sort of faithful diligence may be as important, or more important, than any accomplishment we hear about on the evening news.

If you find you are being worn down by little things, I hope you’ll grab a few minutes of break time to relax, take a few deep breaths, and reassure yourself that a bit of wheel-spinning is inevitable.  Put yourself on the National Do Not Call Registry, remove your name from junk mail lists, streamline the housework, and take steps to eliminate as many other “gnats” as you can.  Then, tackle the others as you are able, giving yourself permission not to be the world’s most efficient person

Things that are big or beautiful or lasting rarely happen quickly.  Over time, with patience, love and devotion, our faithfulness to small and thankless tasks can build something amazing that we can’t foresee from where we are now.

One year ago today:

The real secret

This post was first published seven years ago today. The original post, comments and photo are linked, along with two other related posts, below. These links to related posts, and their thumbnail photos, do not appear in the blog feed; they are only visible when viewing the individual posts by clicking on each one. I have no idea why, nor do I know how they choose the related posts. That’s just the way WordPress does things.

Hardly a waste

Visitors wisely invest some time in resting under the cherry blossoms, Washington DC, April 2013

Visitors wisely invest time resting under the cherry blossoms, Washington DC, April 2013

“Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass on a summer day listening to the murmur of water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is hardly a waste of time.”Sir John Lubbock

Rest is not optional; it’s necessary to health and sanity, but it seems we are in danger of forgetting that.  Even our time off is compulsively scheduled with activities.

Nor does rest always consist of sleep, although we tend to think of it as such.  “Get some rest,” we say to people in the evening, and in the morning we ask “did you rest well?”  But how often have you heard anyone say “I’m headed to the park for some rest” or “I’ll be in the garden resting.”

People do collapse in exhaustion in front of the television and refer to that as “rest,” but a number of studies show that electronic stimulation is not restful, and commercial messages intrude with unwanted content, increasingly embedded into the actual productions to circumvent viewers’ attempts to delete or fast forward through them.

The advent of ever-present mobile devices only complicates the picture.  When I was looking through my photos, I came across a lovely shot of a woman with her dog, sitting in the grass near the water’s edge.  The dog looked sublimely happy and relaxed, but the woman’s gaze was glued to a smart phone.  Was she resting?  Probably not at that moment, though hopefully she tuned out for at least a few minutes, long enough to enjoy the beautiful setting.

Like most people, I feel guilty when I sit around “doing nothing,” even if I’m reading, making mental to-do lists or planning a meal.  We are so programmed to think that staying busy is our responsibility, and we often confuse physical activity with accomplishment.  While a healthy amount of activity is necessary and desirable, maybe we tend to overdo it.

With absolutely no vested authority, I hereby grant you permission to spend a few minutes today doing nothing but relaxing and taking in beauty.  It can be time spent enjoying nature, music, poetry, art, or a playful baby or animal.  What it can’t be is a task, an obligation, television, busy work or sleep.

If you find it hard to unplug from your responsibilities long enough to give your mind and body a brief time of rest, it’s a pretty good sign this goal should go to the top of your “MUST do NOW!” list.  Good luck – and “get some rest!” 😀

One year ago today:

Solace, inspiration, adventure

This post was first published seven years ago today. The original post, comments and photo are linked, along with two other related posts, below. These links to related posts, and their thumbnail photos, do not appear in the blog feed; they are only visible when viewing the individual posts by clicking on each one. I have no idea why, nor do I know how they choose the related posts. That’s just the way WordPress does things.

 

What we become

Some of my favorite people are Daddies!

Some of my favorite people are Daddies!

“I believe that what we become depends on what our fathers teach us at odd moments, when they aren’t trying to teach us. We are formed by little scraps of wisdom.”
Umberto Eco

Happy Father’s Day!

One year ago on Father’s Day:

More than a hundred

This post was first published on Father’s Day seven years ago. The original post, comments and photo are linked, along with two other related posts, below. These links to related posts, and their thumbnail photos, do not appear in the blog feed; they are only visible when viewing the individual posts by clicking on each one. I have no idea why, nor do I know how they choose the related posts. That’s just the way WordPress does things.

Carried on great winds

A seagull soars over the Atlantic at Dam Neck, Virginia, June 2014

A seagull soars over the Atlantic Ocean at Dam Neck, Virginia, June 2014

“Sometimes I go about pitying myself, and all the time I am being carried on great winds across the sky.”Ojibwe dream song

No matter how often I remind myself that despondency always passes, I have a remarkably hard time being the least bit optimistic when I am feeling low.  I can know and remember that such times have come and gone before, but feeling the reality of that truth is a different matter.  There is something pervasive and suffocating about depression, especially when it follows a great loss or trial that has left us with no energy to rise above our sadness.

Fortunately, it doesn’t depend on us to make it go away.  There are times when we should take action to protect ourselves against depression by seeing a medical professional, to consider medication or counseling.  But often, we can help ourselves survive if we learn to recognize and accept the changing seasons of our moods, and learn from them.

I believe that sorrow has much to teach us, and if we are willing to wait, we will emerge from it wiser and maybe even happier than we were before.  Meanwhile, we can take comfort from knowing that many, many others have defeated despair, and understand how difficult the battle can be.  Know that you are not alone — and ride the great winds until your wings are strong enough to fly again.

One year ago today:

Just the thing

This post was first published seven years ago today. The original post, comments and photo are linked, along with two other related posts, below. These links to related posts, and their thumbnail photos, do not appear in the blog feed; they are only visible when viewing the individual posts by clicking on each one. I have no idea why, nor do I know how they choose the related posts. That’s just the way WordPress does things.

Tranquility within

The lilac grove at Montreal Botanical Garden is a great place to re-visit in my mind!  May 2009

The lilac grove at Montreal Botanical Garden is a great place to re-visit in my mind! May 2009

“When we are unable to find tranquility within ourselves, it is useless to seek it elsewhere.”François La Rochefoucauld

We’ve all known people who are restless and never satisfied.  Often these types are blessed with better-than-average advantages in life, but they seem to end up agitated and critical no matter how many times they change scenarios.  I think many of us go through phases, or at least have days, when we can sympathize with this sort of discontent.

Yet La Rochefoucauld does not speak of inner tranquility as a passive constant– note that he speaks of finding tranquility within. To me, this suggests that sometimes we do have to search for it, but we need to look first inside our own hearts and minds.  Ultimately, externals do not determine whether we succeed in finding peace.  Those who are continually blaming other people or tough circumstances for their unhappiness may be overlooking themselves as the most obvious influence on their own moods.

Having said that, let’s remember it’s possible to choose places, people and situations that will stack the deck in our favor when it comes to establishing a calm spirit.  I hope you have at least a few tranquil places, serene people and beatific experiences to help center you deep inside when the storms rage outside.  Lovely photos, soft music, scents of lavender and vanilla, a few deep breaths — there are many ways to light the path to the tranquil sanctuary we carry within us.  I wish you a quick getaway to spend at least a few minutes there today!

One year ago today:

Being peace

This post was first published seven years ago today. The original post, comments and photo are linked, along with two other related posts, below. These links to related posts, and their thumbnail photos, do not appear in the blog feed; they are only visible when viewing the individual posts by clicking on each one. I have no idea why, nor do I know how they choose the related posts. That’s just the way WordPress does things.

The key to failure

Bikers were among hundreds of veterans and civilians attending a pro-USA rally in Sacramento, California, March 2003.

Bikers were among hundreds of veterans and civilians
attending a pro-USA rally in Sacramento, California, March 2003.

“I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everyone.”
Bill Cosby

“Everything I did in my life that was worthwhile, I caught hell for.”Earl Warren

There’s a very real difference between showing courtesy and respect to people with opposing views, versus compromising or hiding one’s own beliefs for fear of disapproval.  Admittedly it’s easy to confuse the two behaviors, especially for those in fields such as entertainment or politics, where popularity is crucial to success.  But even those of us who are relatively anonymous can fall into the trap of trying to please everyone.

Still, there are many people to whom we can look for examples of moral courage.  Some of them are public figures, either contemporary or historic.  Others are private citizens, the people we see every day.  What makes them worthy of admiration is their willingness to stand by their convictions despite the certainty that criticism will result.

These people do not engage in shouting matches or seek to prove themselves superior.  Rather, in quiet dignity, with confidence and without apology, they live according to high standards that don’t always match the cultural norm.

If you ever feel odd, feared or rejected because of views or behaviors that you believe to be morally right, no matter how unpopular, remember that it is impossible to please everyone.  Criticism is inevitable, and popularity is not a reliable predictor of integrity.

While we all do well to examine and re-examine our standards, basing them on a higher authority than our own selfish natures, we also must bear in mind that public opinion is not always a trustworthy arbiter of right and wrong.  If you are facing criticism, consider carefully before acquiescing to it.  Sometimes, it might mean you’re already doing the right thing.

One year ago today:

One who knows the way

This post was first published seven years ago today. The original post, comments and photo are linked, along with two other related posts, below. These links to related posts, and their thumbnail photos, do not appear in the blog feed; they are only visible when viewing the individual posts by clicking on each one. I have no idea why, nor do I know how they choose the related posts. That’s just the way WordPress does things.

The little steps

These tiny yellow flowers add up to a lovely background for the larger ones. Keukenhof, the Netherlands, March 2007

These tiny yellow flowers add up to form a lovely background for the larger ones.
Keukenhof, the Netherlands, March 2007

“Don’t despise the little steps you know you can take every day. There are tiny miracles in each and every one of them.”Israelmore Ayivor

Do you ever have days when you feel like just giving up?  I do.  Often.  In fact, I’m having one today, which I hope will be far behind me by the time this post is published and you read it.

At such times, I tend to feel unfocused and hopeless, even desperate, seeing how many of my attempts to solve difficult problems seem to be making no difference whatsoever.  I’m exhausted– out of energy, ideas and optimism.  I just want to go off somewhere and escape into sleep.  Unfortunately, in my life right now, that’s hardly ever an option.

Usually the only way I can dig myself out of such a pit is to do something, some little thing that I have a fairly good chance of accomplishing.  It can be the dishes, or a quick note, or a phone call to schedule an appointment.  But it needs to be something that I can get done in five minutes so I will be able to get some psychological oxygen before I smother in failure.

Sometimes it backfires on me when what should be a simple phone call turns into a multi-tiered robotic obstacle course (you know, the kind where you have to listen to endless menu choices to get to yet another menu, then get put on hold, then get disconnected).  But usually, one small task leads to another, a trail of pebbles I can follow out of the forest as Hansel and Gretel did.

Not every day is a big-step kind of day.  In fact, for me, relatively few of them are.  But don’t lose faith in the tiny steps.  They add up, and over time, they turn out to be the foundation for a larger success.

One year ago:

One step at a time

This post was first published seven years ago today. The original post, comments and photo are linked, along with two other related posts, below. These links to related posts, and their thumbnail photos, do not appear in the blog feed; they are only visible when viewing the individual posts by clicking on each one. I have no idea why, nor do I know how they choose the related posts. That’s just the way WordPress does things.

A form of fatigue

Jeff knows how to sleep well, and it is helping him survive.  June 2012

Jeff knows how to sleep well, and it is helping him survive. June 2012

“Sadness is almost never anything but a form of fatigue.”André Gide

This is the sort of quote that provokes a bit of skepticism in me, until I think about it closely.  To verify that it’s true, or at least mostly true, I need look no farther than members of my own family – and specifically, to think about Jeff and me.

One of Jeff’s greatest strengths, and a source of his amazing stamina even over the past 18 months, is his absolute insistence on adequate sleep.  At times he seems aloof, almost heartless, in his determination to put away the cares, sorrows and grief of the day (which lately have been considerable for him) and fall asleep as soon as his head hits the pillow.  During the worst hours of suffering related to chemo or surgery, his sleep was as impaired as I’ve ever seen it.  But even through all that, I’ve never known him to spend an entire night without at least a few hours’ sleep, no matter what.

Not coincidentally, I’ve never met anyone who wastes less time on self-pity or sadness.  In fact, it took me a long time to convince him that depression is quite real for some people, and I still don’t think he understands it completely, at least not in the same way that I do.

As for me…suffice it to say that sleeping well has never, ever been my greatest asset. Even when I try my best to get in bed at a reasonable hour, and even when I succeed, I don’t always sleep soundly.  Insomnia has been my most consistent health concern.

I did learn the hard way, though, that insomnia– or even fairly mild sleep deprivation– predisposes me to all manner of gloom, sadness and depression.  (Not to mention falling asleep at the wheel when I’m driving.)  Having already had more of such than I want in one lifetime, I have learned to be fiercely protective of my sleep.

A few things I’ve learned: it’s best to turn off the computer in the early evening.  It helps to eat Greek yogurt before bedtime. Delta-wave sleep CDs, sleep masks (to block out the light, even when it’s mostly dark) and a sauna session followed by a nice bath have all been remarkably effective for me, to my surprise.  Not perfect, but better than a dependence on nightly medication.  However, if forced to choose, I’d go for medication occasionally rather than endure more than a night or two of consecutive, refractory insomnia.

If you find yourself feeling down or more sad than usual, take a close look at your sleep.  If it has been less than ideal, try prioritizing sleelp for awhile, and see if a good bit of the sadness doesn’t resolve with that intervention alone.  If you’ve got any helpful tips for us on how to improve sleep, including ways for those of us who are night owls to get ourselves into bed at a reasonable hour 😀 we’d love to hear them!

OK, as I write this, it’s 4:30 p.m. and I’m signing off the computer for the day (I hope) — pleasant dreams!

One year ago today:

Resolved in the morning

This post was first published seven years ago on June 20. The date was adjusted for this re-posting to allow the Father’s Day post from seven years ago to appear on that day this year. The original post, comments and photo are linked, along with two other related posts, below. These links to related posts, and their thumbnail photos, do not appear in the blog feed; they are only visible when viewing the individual posts by clicking on each one. I have no idea why, nor do I know how they choose the related posts. That’s just the way WordPress does things.

A vast university

The Louvre at night, August 2005

“The whole of Paris is a vast university of Art, Literature and Music… it is worth anyone’s while to dally here for years. Paris is a seminar, a post-graduate course in everything.” 
James Thurber

People who love Paris and didn’t love school might not agree with Thurber, but I connected with his description immediately.  Or in the words of Joni Mitchell, “…in Paris, I felt unfettered and alive.” The idea of dallying there for years sounds very appealing to me, not least for the chance to practice speaking and hearing one of the world’s most beautiful languages.

I heard a lot of bad press about Paris before I finally went there in 2005, but none of the negative stories turned out to be true.  For me, it was one of the most enchanting places I’d ever been.  And besides all the things Thurber lists, there’s the FOOD…

Where do you dream of being able to “dally for years?”

One year ago today:

A place once visited

This post was first published seven years ago today. The original post, comments and photo are linked, along with two other related posts, below. These links to related posts, and their thumbnail photos, do not appear in the blog feed; they are only visible when viewing the individual posts by clicking on each one. I have no idea why, nor do I know how they choose the related posts. That’s just the way WordPress does things.

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