Because it's Sunday I thought I'd mention some of my favorite things that have helped me at various times in my life to feel greater peace even while in difficult circumstances.
The Pacific Ocean is a big one for me. After my dad died and when life was crazy in the aftermath with family, commuting, and college, I tried to leave the house a little early (5am) so that I would have time to stop off at a favorite beach of mine along the way and take a few minutes to just be. Those times served me well at the time and several years later as I prepared for my first heart surgery. Like Wordsworth's famous poem on daffodils, I felt the delight of a beautiful scene restoring parts of me to myself as I imagined myself back at a particular cliff overlooking the ocean. That scene, deeply impressed in my memory, helped keep me calm and grounded even when during and after the surgery, there were complications.
Moon jellyfish, starfish, and sea horses help calm me by being beautiful examples of being still and slowing down. They are endlessly fascinating to me. The Tennessee, Cabrillo, and Monterey Bay Aquariums hold special places in my heart as places that captured my imagination, thrilled me, and taught me valuable life lessons in the process.
There was a rare and precious day in my life that I spent at the Nashville Zoo. I listened to a radio performance of Shakespeare on my way down, got in for half price because of the weather, and practically had the entire zoo to myself for several hours. The sun came out and warmed the bamboo grove around me in the early afternoon, freeing it from the ice as crystals crashed down around me and sparkled at my feet. That moment helped free me too. It was magical, pure and simple. Thanks to an early birthday gift, I was able to purchase paintings by three different elephants who lived and painted at the zoo- a dream I'd had for many years. I was interviewed that day for a film school documentary and drove home in the hat and scarf I had made myself that made me feel warm and pretty and had attracted the director's attention. Those paintings and the feelings, memories, and sensations they evoke remind me of a perfect day while making it easier for me to enjoy painting for the sake of the feel of the paint and the paper and the brush, the joy of movement, the joy of seeing and the joy of being.
A painting by William Merritt Chase that hangs in a bright and airy room at the Huntington Library and Gardens fascinated me one afternoon when I took a few hours off from helping to care for my grandmother after a stroke she had changed her life forever- much like a book of Norman Rockwell paintings had transported me outside of myself during one of the many surgeries my dad had when I was a little girl.
For the last two years a talk by Dieter F. Uchtdorf has helped me to be more patient and stronger at a time in my life when, despite my best efforts, it's felt like nothing of importance was changing and very little good was happening.
There were several delightful evenings when I had a mini-Alice in Wonderland experience looking up at the world from beneath a bouquet of daisies a friend had sent when I was in bed for a prolonged period of time.
There were obnoxiously fun renderings of songs with my brothers, my sister, and my mom.
And there is the sacred calm I feel every time I listen to this song:
If you notice a pattern here, it is a simple one that you both know and understand: true peace comes from God. He is always aware of where we are and what we need to grow and progress. I believe in God not because he has given me what I've wanted in life, but because he has given me what I've needed. When the police could not keep my family safe from the men who were threatening to kill us, he helped my family to draw closer to one another and to him and to find peace even when chaos reigned everywhere around us. It has been the times he brought peace and healing into our lives that the world could not give us that have helped me to trust him and to attempt things I would not have had the courage or fortitude to otherwise. He's blessed me through nature, family, strangers and friends, books, music, and art. Thousands and thousands of ways in which daily he says, "I love you."
That love is what makes it possible for me to love and forgive others and to go on when I want to give up and be done with it all. It is what sustained you when the world plunged into two world wars and an economic crisis and people, especially children, died from a vast array of diseases that are largely forgotten and unknown to us now.
Ease seldom brings the blessings that work and struggles do. The older I get, the greater the blessing of work has become. As I mature, I am developing a greater appreciation for struggle too. I can't honestly say that struggle is one of my favorite things, but the growth it often prompts definitely is. After all, one of my greatest desires as a child was to grow up. That's one of the reasons I enjoyed spending time with both of you. You treated me like someone who could appreciate and understand things, and often I did, because of you.
Still desiring and still growing,