Success Through the Eyes of an (Almost) 30 Year-Old… and Ralph Waldo Emerson!

Sometimes, when faced with major milestones in our lives, as I am about to be in two days when I turn 30, we can’t help but look at where we are now and compare it to where we thought we might be. For some this comparison may be wonderful because they have accomplished so much more than what they thought was possible. For others (and I’d venture to guess this is the majority), it is a tough comparison to make. It is tough because life is rarely as grand as we imagine it will be when we are younger and because, as I so often stress in this blog, it is entirely too easy to weigh life by its grand moments, which are few and far between, rather than by the little beauties that ought to overwhelm us every day. I am trying to train my thoughts to mark worth and value by a much finer measure and take better notice of all of the little things that are the building blocks of the bigger ones. But even with my constant and vigilant efforts, I still find myself subdued, even saddened at times by all that I have not accomplished: financial stability, debt eradication, literary success (or at least notice), non-familial long-term relationships, a better handle on my own character flaws, a career. But as I begin to sink into these thoughts of “what if” or “if only” my wonderful husband often sits beside me and reminds me of all the important things I have accomplished: marrying an incredible person who I have the privilege of co-piloting life with, creating and training from scratch another human being (and a half), working to help provide for my family while being its primary care giver, producing almost a year’s worth of consistent (and, dare I say, occasionally profound) writing that has developed a growing following and influenced more people than I know, playing a distinct and important role in many people’s lives even if they are not still an active part of mine, starting a book club and voraciously consuming literature, completing a degree in two fields and opening many doors as a result, becoming an excellent cook, and constantly changing and growing and developing as each year passes. What more could I ask for? As I was contemplating these faithful encouragements from my dear hubby, I came across this quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson that was so pertinent to my meditations and so poignant in its profound and elegant beauty, that it made me cry as I read it. I hope it moves you as it did me.

Life in the Light of Death

Having not attended a funeral in many, many years and then randomly attending two in the last two months, I’ve been pondering the concepts that surround death. And life. And everything that lies in between. I know this seems like a somewhat morbid concept for a blog that focuses largely on seizing the moment and appreciating life, but what makes this theme more crucial or potent than death? Is there anything that motivates us more strongly to grab life by the horns and savor the wild ride? So if you were hoping for a more lighthearted post about shopping or design or recipes, come back next time, there will be plenty more of those. But for now, here are some thoughts inspired by the ending of two lives worth memorializing whose influence spread wide and whose love left a lasting mark on this world:

– I do not appreciate my own life or the lives of my loved ones enough. We are all only here for a moment. But what a moment! There are SO many beauties that surround us every day but often we allow ourselves to be robbed of them because we are too busy worrying, stressing, begrudging, envying, etc. How many times a day do we tell those we love how much they mean to us? How vastly would that number change if we knew our time with them was limited? It is. So SAY IT! Every time you appreciate something about those you hold dear, tell them. Every time you have a lovely thought about them, tell them. Every time they inspire you to be better, tell them. There is no one who would tire of hearing such things and you never know when your expression of love and gratitude may be your last.

– Explaining death to a two-year old is hard. Who am I kidding? Explaining death to ourselves is hard, much less trying to explain it to someone who barely has his head wrapped around what it means to be alive. And lets face it, none of us knows exactly what will happen to us when we die. We can have faith that certain things will happen. We can hope for some things. We can hope against others. But we don’t know. So answering questions such as, “Where did they go?” “Will we see them again?” “What does die mean?” “Will YOU die?” are very difficult when looking into the eyes of your innocent, naïve, beautiful blue-eyed son. Especially when the answer is simply “I don’t know.”

– I have a deep desire to leave a legacy. I wrote about this a couple posts back. It doesn’t have to be vast, but it has to be powerful. I want to be remembered by more than just my children and I want my children to remember me as more than just their mother. When people consider the life I leave behind, I want them to be inspired to be better people, as I have been inspired by those recently passed. I want to leave a legacy of unmatched love, selflessness, faithfulness that inspires growth and change, written and spoken word that is not easily forgotten, loyalty, hospitality, open-mindedness, and light. Perhaps the sphere of people that I influence will be relatively small, but I hope that sphere will do great things.

– I do not wish to have a visitation before my funeral. If the point of such gatherings is to say goodbye, it is too late. I will already be gone. I don’t want people to gaze at my lifeless body and wish my soul were still with it. I want them to remember me alive, not dead in a box. And if the point of a visitation is to pay respects to the family, most often, they need time and space. And having to face everyone they know with a smile and say, “We’re doing fine, thank you.” at a time when they are really not, actually, doing fine, seems a bit . . . well . . . cruel. I want to give my bereaved family room to mourn privately and I want the eulogy at my funeral to focus on my life and what it meant rather than on its ending. There is a scene in the movie, Love Actually, in which a widower expresses the wishes of his wife for what she wanted at her own funeral. She asked that the music of the Bay City Rollers, “Bye Bye Baby,” be played while a projector displayed images of the beautiful moments of her life over her casket. It was sadly funny, beautiful and touching and I have always been moved by such an idea.

– Nothing ever prepares us for death. It will always be shocking and painful. But we as human beings have a remarkable ability to recover, adapt, move on. Never forgetting, but forging ahead and learning how to live in the absence of the person who is gone. I cannot even fathom the chasm that would be left if my darling husband were to leave me early, or how desperately painful it would be to outlive my son. But strangely, I can imagine leaving them, and I KNOW I would not want them to lose themselves in their grief. To forget how to see and experience beauty. I would not want my death to rob them of the their lives as well. Knowing this, from my perspective, I must be prepared to continue to live my life in the face of extraordinary loss, as that is what they too would want.

– Above all else, in life as well as in death, LOVE is primary. It is what motivates us and holds us together. It spurs us into action when action is necessary. It demands a quiet embrace when no action is possible. It is its own legacy and without it we are lost. Remember, nothing is more important than love. Not truth, not being right, not winning, not succeeding or failing. It is the golden rule and the greatest commandment of all religions. LOVE.

There is so much more to say, but sometimes there are too many words. This, I believe, summarizes my thoughts and feelings of late. Perhaps they will inspire you to consider your life in the light of death and appreciate it fully now, even if you don’t get a chance to remember it later. Others will.

Stop Dying and Start Living a Little!

Human development is stunning . . . at all of its stages. The way I see it, the moment we stop developing in some capacity, as our human nature demands, is the moment we start dying. If we are not growing, we are diminishing. Everyone expects children to be constantly developing, growing and changing, but at some point in our adult lives, we get the distinct impression that no one expects us to grow anymore. That, just as our bodies have stopped growing, we as people are also free to coast our way through the rest of our existence without giving much thought to change. This is a sad way of living, with very few expectations, that leads to the end of personal fulfillment, relationships, and love. However, when we encounter people who have not given up on their own person development, who journey through life with an unspoken belief that every door, open or shut, is an opportunity, who take every chance they get to reexamine how they do things, why they do things, and what difference they are making by doing them, then the light that emanates from them is unmistakable. They are an inspiration to everyone they meet because, deep down, we all crave what they exhibit so freely.

I have experienced some incredibly potent examples of human capability and growth this week. They may be very small, in size or significance, but in actuality, they are great. They are what make us unique, vibrant, and mysterious. The human being that is developing in my belly is only 7 weeks old (5 weeks from the time of conception) and today, as we visited the doctor for the first time, we heard its minute heart making a big sound. A human no larger than 1/2 an inch with a fully functional, beating heart. A journey of development that started only 5 weeks previous with two cells, has now become multiple body systems with a heart that beats 126 times per minute. Amazing. If that is not inspiring, I’m not sure what is.

My son, who, up until now in his 2 1/2 years of development has been very literal in his interpretations of the world around him, has exploded into the realm of imagination. Everything is pretend. And there is no limit to what is possible. So there’s a dragon behind that chair whose fire you can put out with water that spews from the end of your sword? Fantastic! So Superman is having supper with you and imbues your catfish with special powers to grant strength? Amazing! So there’s a campfire in the living room and you want to roast marshmallows? Why not! The mind has such incredible capacity to create, that once it has developed a framework of understanding for how things work, it breaks those barriers and creates new rules. Once again inspiring us, as stodgy old adults who have everything figured out, to step outside of the box and just IMAGINE the possibilities.

My husband, who keeps his plate completely full with music, goals, ideas, learning, family, work, exercise, and (occasionally) relaxation, has managed to stretch his boundaries further and increase his capabilities because the people who love him need his help. Being hobbled by morning sickness lately, I have been unable to accomplish everything that I normally do for Aiden, the house, and our family, and Jonathan has stepped up to fill all the gaps. Finding time and strength he didn’t know he possessed. That is love. That is maturity and growth born from necessity. That is inspiring.

Every day we can find new examples of growth and development if we seek them out. And when we find them we should nourish and feed them, and spread the infectious inspiration of them to others, so that they too can stop dying and start living a little.

Dear Photograph

I recently discovered a blog so stunning in its representation of humanity, so beautiful in its display of memories, and so poignant in its confrontation of the past, that I decided to feature it here. Its idea aligns so well with that of nostalgia and not waiting until tomorrow to appreciate today. The blog is called Dear Photograph, and it’s concept is to “take a picture of a picture from the past in the present.”

Dear Photograph, At the time it was not common for a man to walk behind a pram. I’m still proud of my father. ~Eva Willemier Westra

People contribute photos from all over the world and each contribution is sent with a caption that is a message to the photo’s subjects or a commentary about the time period in which it was taken. The creator of Dear Photograph, 21-year-old Taylor Jones from Ontario, came up with the concept while sifting through some old snap shots of his own. He spontaneously took a picture of one of the photos he found which was taken in the very spot where he sat. And the idea was born. The project is so remarkable because it inspires people to not only revisit old memories, but to physically revisit the location of those memories, forcing them to travel to the past to confront it or embrace it, whichever the case may be. It puts the past in the context of the present and acknowledges what is gone and what has taken its place.

Dear Photograph, It’s nice to know that we loved each other once upon a time. ~Sam

If you spend even a few minutes at this site, you will be struck with an overwhelming desire to call your parents or send a letter to your grandpa. It is painfully obvious why it’s popularity skyrocketed to 1.2 million visitors within 3 weeks of its creation. It is breathtaking. Hope you are as mesmerized by it as I am.

Dear Photograph, For one brief moment, this murky little duck pond became the most beautiful place on earth. ~Greg

A Fear of Change

I have had more than one conversation lately in which I voiced some version of this statement: “I do not look forward to the future because I so much enjoy the present.” I can’t decide if this is a virtue or a vice. Perhaps it is both. Certainly contentment with the present is to be admired and sought after, but fearing the future because I see it as a goodbye to the to the things I love now – this is probably weakness and immaturity. The truth is, I have never experienced such significant growth and blessing, stability and strength as I now possess. My life has been an ever-changing sea of faces and places, in which dreams change and lives change and goodbyes are an inevitable part of that change. It still makes me sad to think about what was lost. But perhaps it is that very loss, those very goodbyes that produce the stability and strength I now hold so dear. Without them I would not be the person I have become. Why would I assume that the future holds anything other than further growth, development, and strengthening of my loves?

When I first learned that I would be moving back to the South, I was terrified that I would be isolated and bored and uncomfortable. Now, after voluntarily spending a decade here, it is hard to imagine another place I would call home. When my heart was broken in college, I feared it would never be whole again. But severing it from such an unhealthy attachment, made it wholly ready to embrace my husband and a better man I cannot imagine. Before Aiden was born, I worried that my relationship with my extraordinary husband might not be the same, might suffer even, after he entered the picture. On the contrary, he has added such depth and wonder to our lives it is impossible to imagine life without him. Why, in the face of these and countless other examples of the richness of the unexpected and unimaginable, do I still fear the future? Should I not excitedly embrace it as the conduit of my dreams – both known and unaware? And yet, as I find myself on the brink of a vast new change, bringing another human being into the world and into our lives, I find myself afraid. But I have a choice. I can embrace the change and assume, as life has constantly taught me, that it will bring good, or I can give in to the fear and rob myself of the present which I so enjoy by worrying away its beauty. I chose to embrace . . . the change when it comes, my husband and son now, my friends when I am able, and life in all of its varied, complex forms.