Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Contentment: The Splendor of Each Day


As I often do, today I got up when the sky began to brighten, and made fresh coffee. I then slipped into the pool just as the first orange rays of morning sun illuminated the upper branches of the trees.

The water was warm enough to be comfortable, but cool enough to refresh and finish the job of waking me up. I sipped steaming coffee and watched the morning light move down the tree trunks and the stones of the back wall. I felt the air stir and the temperature begin to rise.

A flurry of wing beats gently broke the silence and several doves settled near the pool. Startled to discover they were not alone, they eyed me warily for a moment or two before edging closer to sip deeply from the water. More flutters signaled the arrival of additional birds, who apparently taking comfort in numbers, joined their fellows at the water's edge.

I leaned back and watched the sunlight, now glancing off the water to cast rippling reflections into the shadows. Moments passed. When I looked once again for the birds they were gone. My attention had been so captivated by the light show that I didn't hear them take flight.

I savored the bitter richness of my hot drink as a pink dragonfly began to trace a rectangular pattern overhead. I put down my cup and floated on my back. With each pass the insect came lower, and then suddenly it began to dip into the water, making a small splashing sound with each contact.

"It's drinking," I thought. But the dragonfly continued to splash, time after time. I counted twenty, thirty, thirty-five impacts, often within an arm's length of my bobbing head. Sometimes when it rose it seemed to shake itself; fine droplets of spray flew in all directions. The tiny dragonfly certainly can't have needed that much water. Was it bathing? Does a dragonfly have the capacity to do something for the fun of it?

I am reminded of a passage I read several months ago that has stuck in my mind ever since:

"At such an instant, it seems as though no other day will ever attain the impossible splendor of this one. Already, I feel a nostalgia for today even as I live it."

The passage was written by Dr. Sherwin B. Nuland in his book, How We Die. He was writing about noticing the incredible beauty around him one morning as he drove to visit a patient who was about to die.

The morning earlier this month that my mother died, I took just a moment away from our vigil and went outside. I noticed the blue sky and white clouds, and the way the leaves of the live oaks shimmered silver-green in the breeze. I took some deep breaths and realized that it was a marvelous day. I went back to Mom's side and about half an hour later she was gone. It was a very difficult and sad day, but I always will have that memory of it also being a very beautiful one.

I think one of the most important lessons I've been learning recently is that if we consider death our ally, it teaches us how to live. If we acknowledge that there is a definite number to our days, we make each day count to the greatest extent we can.

Each individual finds his or her own way to do that. We each find our own meaning. It's up to us.


26 comments:

  1. The death of a parent leads to a great deal of introspection for most people. It's a gut wrenching loss no matter how old you or they are. We learn and grow from the introspection. And hopefully can enjoy these quiet times like you had in the pool in the morning.

    The day my Dad died, I kissed him, told him that I loved him and that I would see him in the morning. He was gone just after midnight. But it had still been a good day that last day.

    Allow yourself to grieve and be good to yourself.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for sharing that Joanne, and thanks for your friendship and support.

      Delete
  2. Beautiful post Marc - thanks.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Beautiful day, beautiful friends. Who could ask for more? Thanks, Babs.

      Delete
  3. Take care, Marc. You really are a treasure.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Nancy. I hope to see you -- here or there -- one of these days soon.

      Delete
  4. That was/is lovely, I know you struggle with the loss of your mom, these moments make all things bearable!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you Debi. These kinds of moments, and living with my friends in this community of Mérida make things much easier.

      Delete
  5. I missed the news about your mother. It added a bittersweet subtext to this beautiful post.

    I immediately recognized the quotation. How We Die is one of those books that has had a deep impact on my life. And our acceptance that death is an inevitable part of our lives is what liberates us to enjoy what we have now.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. And you, Steve, are a fine example of one who takes full advantage of what life has to offer. I have stolen a page or two from your book, er, blog.

      I might add that having read the book by Nuland made the process of being in hospice with a loved one much more understandable. I recommend How We Die heartily.

      Delete
  6. Lovely, as always, Marc. Nature does counter so many ills and disappointments, doesn't it? Do dragon flys play? Probably. My dogs play, as does my loro; so why not a dragonfly?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Alinde. Yes, life does fill in the low spots, if we just let it.

      I prefer to believe that dragonflies do play. Maybe I won't Google that and just let it be...

      Delete
  7. Your post has really touched me. How I wish I still had my parents. They have been gone along time, passing so young. Now I am their age and each day longer I live is a gift. Thank you for writing this. I will be thinking of it for days.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I am pleased the post gave you something to think about. As a writer I can't hope for more than that.

      Along the lines of your thinking, I lost several friends my age many years ago (they were in their 20's or 30's), and often have thought that each day I live longer than they is a gift. My mother lived a long and full life, so although losing her is very sad, it's not the same as the death of someone much younger.

      Delete
  8. Contentment -- up to us... as we grow older a lesson well learned. But the roles of our supportive friends and family, can be immeasurable. And in those low times, sometimes irreplaceable.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I agree. Contentment is up to us, but we can't find it in a vacuum. The people we surround ourselves with make all the difference.

      Delete
  9. It is amazing how that happens, when a close friend of mine died suddenly when I was about 17, I remember spending the evening in a horrible place of shock, disbelief and grief but I have another memory of that night equally poignant of holding a little kitten and feeling his little heartbeat. i think I found that disturbing for a long time, that the memory of that kitten was forever connected with his death.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Carolyn, I assume that you no longer find the association disturbing, and it shouldn't be. I suspect that holding the kitten, a tiny vulnerable life in your hands, was comforting. It helped you with your shock and grief, much the way remembering the beautiful day my mother died helps me with mine.

      After Mom passed, my brother and sister and I were sort of at loose ends, so we went to the beach and swam together. I see it now as a kind of cleansing or a baptism into a new life without our mother. I don't feel badly that it's also a part of the memory that that day. Mom loved the beach. It seemed just the right thing to do...just like going home that evening and eating a huge meal of comfort food -- salad and lasagne -- just the kind of thing we might have eaten at home with our parents years ago.

      Delete
    2. You're right, now I don't think it lessens the memory of my friend but enriches it and puts it in a larger context, where bad things exist but they exist among all the other wondrous things of the world—often small, and largely unnoticed things.

      Delete
  10. What you write always makes me feel peaceful, Thank you. Glad to know you're doing ok.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for reading and commenting, Sara.

      Delete
  11. Marc,

    Thank you for writing just what I needed to hear today. After getting caught up in certain unpleasantries, it brings me back to a place of peace.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Beautiful post. You are absolutely correct in your thoughts about today being a beautiful day. Every day is beautiful. You just have to sometimes seek out the beauty and just go from there.

    Chin up! It's another beautiful day.

    ReplyDelete
  13. "Already, I feel a nostalgia for today even as I live it."

    I've often had that unusual feeling and never had words for it. Thank you for describing how it feels to experience beauty or peace... and wonder at how you'll miss it. Almost like a topsy-turvy in time.

    Thank you.

    ReplyDelete
  14. I am so sorry about your mother. Reading that she passed made me cry, as I am waiting for my father to move on and hoping he can soon find some peace. Your reminder to pay attention is exactly what I needed. This is an exquisite post. Your writing is so beautiful and it touches my heart. Thank you.

    ReplyDelete
  15. What a beautiful and touching post Marc. I think you are very wise to incorporate the beauty in your life into your grieving process. I'm so sorry for your loss.

    ReplyDelete

I appreciate comments, but will delete comments that are rude, offensive or off topic. Unfortunately, due to the heavy volume of spam, comment moderation has been enabled. I will try to approve comments promptly, but your patience is appreciated.
If you have technical trouble leaving your comment, please email it to:
marc_olson@hotmail.com
and I will post it for you.