That depends on you. Right now, life is too full. I am grasping at inspiration like a drowning victim reaching for air. Buried beneath a barrage of deadlines and yet still able to find hours to waste online. Craving a moment of beauty, no matter how insignificant. Reaching for hope.
Brooklyn Bridge walk to clear your mind!
Inspiration is for those that are alert, tuned in and ready to catch it when it comes, for it is fleeting.
Inspiration is the glimmer in that homeless man’s eyes when you’ve just given him your gloves. Inspiration is a moment by the fire, laughing with friends. Inspiration is quiet and reflective, when you are worried about the well-being of your people. Inspiration is the grief that makes us carry on, in spite of ourselves.
Fountain in New York City!
Seek that which inspires you. Maybe it is the comfort of the holidays or your family. Maybe it is solace in your work or a walk in the woods. Maybe it is just curled up with a book. Pay attention, because as the philosopher Hannah Arendt says, “it is our duty to understand” and through inspiration comes understanding.
Sometimes serendipity smacks you in the face and there is no explanation for it. That is what happened to me tonight. I had dinner with two perfect strangers… Serendipitous strangers.
I checked into a hotel in Connecticut. In fact, the best hotel I’ve ever stayed in. It was a beautiful room with the feel of a retreat. I was in this hotel because it was near to the place I needed to be at the time. Near my stepmother as she was dying.
Stepmother is such a loaded term. A term filled with cultural uncertainty. A word that can span the spectrum of meaning: an evil stepmother? A Cinderella-esque situation? Or all the way to the opposite side: the almost unimaginable kind person who cared for a child/children not her own. I mean, who does that? And in real life? Maybe this is why it is so easy to embrace the evil stepmother image, because kind stepmother is too hard to imagine.
But I was lucky. Actually we were lucky to have her. She was an amazing stepmother and she cared for us part-time from about age 8 on. I fully admit this is the unimaginable scenario that is almost boring.
She passed away this morning, but I have no regrets. I told her I loved her and what she meant to me. I spent time with her while she was ill and saw her in these last days. She had suffered a lot.
Back at the inn I had stepped out for a breath of fresh air. The innkeeper saw me outside and asked how things had gone. After I explained, she invited me to join her and her friend for dinner- even if I just needed a good cry. Oh my was I surprised and I decided to join them.
It was a beautiful evening I will never forget with two intelligent, empathetic, accomplished women who were full of life, laughter and sound advice. My faith in this world was renewed and it was the perfect medicine.
So… Because this is a decorating blog and not the writer’s forum, grief counseling or parenting blog it has morphed into, I’m attaching some grainy iPhone photos of the inn. You should stay here. You should go to Connecticut and see the scenery and say hello to Pam the innkeeper who made Connecticut feel more like North Carolina because…
This is a different sort of blog post. On the surface it is a book review. But it is also a reflection on grief. If you are nervous, then go ahead and move along. I will not hold it against you.
The book Rare Bird, a Memoir of Loss and Love by Anna Whiston-Donaldson is about grief, profound and gripping. The kind of book that asks more of a reader than a few hours of undivided attention. It lets you glimpse the world of a mother struggling to cope with the loss of her son, questioning God in her most private moments, consumed by grief and ultimately facing the question of… why?
My own experience with grief was physical. It has faded with time, but when I first lost this person, I had stress headaches, my throat closed and I could not eat for days. He was like a father to me and I was instantly filled with regret that maybe he never knew how much I had loved him. My tendency to be formal and wrap my heart up in bubble wrap, just to keep it from breaking, did not stop the heartbreak now. It only caused me to regret that I had not told him how much he meant to me when he was alive. But he knew. I know that now because he has shown me since.
This is where the book comes in. Even in death, there is comfort and hope. I look at my own twelve-year old son and think how fragile he is. It is possible to experience completely opposite emotions at once: like despair and love simultaneously. The author, Anna Whiston-Donaldson eloquently describes this phenomenon in her book Rare Bird. She shows us that “the line between here and there is a thin one.”
This book gave me the courage to visit my grandmother the other day. Normally I would not need to draw on my courage to go see her, but she has deteriorated and her Alzheimer’s disease is advanced now. I was afraid she would not know me, or that she would be experiencing sun-downing, or that she would be asleep and I would be disturbing her. But none of those things happened and it was one of the best times I ever had with her. I will cherish it always.
When I arrived, she did not know me exactly, but she knew I was important to her. The delight on her face as I told her about myself was sincere and she was proud of my accomplishments all over again. It was so funny when she exclaimed, “I could pull some strings and get you a gig in here!” It made me smile and I know that she knows how much I love her because she remembered the emotions she had for me even before she remembered who I was.
My dear friend is facing the challenges addressed by this book directly. Her twelve-year old son has a terminal illness. I can only look on and try to help and support her from the sidelines, occasionally offering an ear, a shoulder, or a cup of tea. This friend recently described to me how sharply the world has come into focus for her at times, seeing the trees and the grass in vivid color and knowing all too well how fleeting it is. At the same time, she feels she is blessed and she stands tall like the tree in the midst of a hurricane, bending but never breaking. She has deep roots and draws her strength from the water, the earth, and from God Himself. I am amazed by her beauty and strength. I will give her this book.
Rare Bird, a Memoir of Loss and Loveby Anna Whiston-Donaldson is a gift. It is a gift of life; the life you may find unimaginable after suffering loss. It reminds us to untangle the barriers we put up and to love those around us freely; to let go of the fear of losing them. It reminds us that you are “braver than you think.”