A Sense of Awe and Wonder

I had an amazing experience last week.

I was packing my vehicle, for the return leg of my solo road trip from Canada to Arizona, where I had been visiting my Aunt.

“You must see the Grand Canyon on your way home,” she said. “It’s only a few hours north from here.”

North. I was planning to head west, to take the most efficient route home. I had such a long journey ahead of me. Additional days for sightseeing would only add more miles, expense and personal energy to my trip.

But the Grand Canyon. Could I pass up an opportunity to see something “grand” that has inspired so many generations of people, stories, film and art?

Knowing life holds no guarantees, knowing I may not ever come this way again…I decided to take an alternate route home, and made an extra effort to see for myself, what my Aunt (and many others) encouraged me to see.

Grand Canyon Hi-Med

The Grand Canyon exceeded my expectations. I knew it would be beautiful, but I didn’t know the impact it would have on me.

When I first stood at the railing and laid eyes on its magnificence, I gasped and cried openly. It was so incredibly breathtaking! More than I ever could have imagined. Tears flowed down my cheeks.

It was awe-inspiring. And I felt so emotional.

I wept for the opportunity to see this natural beauty in my lifetime, and I wept for the bittersweet circumstance that my husband did not live long enough to see it with me. I was seeing this beauty alone.

Yet, I was not alone.

And not because there were other people around me, taking photos and hiking the trails and enjoying winter picnics.

It was because I felt a sense of connection to something greater than myself.

Something vast, timeless and transcendent, that shifted my perception of the world. Something that was here long before I was ever born, and will remain here, long after I’m gone.

When you experience a great loss, you know the deep, inconsolable pain of losing that connection. And how it is a long, personal journey to recreate a new life, after that loss.

An experience of awe may be something to momentarily lift you from your grief, and remind you of the life force that is still inside you. That you are still here, and there is still beauty in the world to experience.

You can find nature’s beauty through travel, but you can also experience a sense of awe from your own backyard, looking up to the night skies, seeing twinkling stars and constellations that have been there for thousands of years.

Nature offers endless moments to experience a sense of wonder, which cost absolutely nothing, and are ever changing:

  • A soft pink sunrise, or a blazing sunset.
  • The glowing full moon rising over the landscape.
  • A rainbow suddenly emerging from the clouds.
  • Lightning within a storm.
  • Ribbons of dancing northern lights.
  • A meteor shower.

Many people who experienced the awe of last summer’s total solar eclipse, felt profoundly moved witnessing such a rare and special celestial event.

You can also experience moments of awe through beautiful legacies created by other human beings:

  • A soul-stirring piece of music. (My personal favorite is Clair de Lune by Debussy. Especially while listening under moonlight.)
  • An inspired, passionate speech.
  • An iconic work of art.

Even if you can’t travel to Florence to look up at Michelangelo’s sculpture of David, you can still go stand at the trunk of a large, wise old tree, and gaze skyward. An ancient tree is a masterpiece of nature.

You can also simply be present with your Self. Through the stillness of meditation, you might have a very moving, spiritual experience.

If you are feeling lost or disconnected in this unfamiliar place of life after loss, I encourage you to step outside in the world — your world — and actively seek out something awe-inspiring to awaken all your human senses.

You may feel uplifted, a sense of reconnection, or greater purpose.

You may even come alive.


This post was originally published as a guest author contribution on SecondFirsts.com, a website and community devoted to inspiring people after loss.

My Camino

I have so much beautiful music I haven’t listened to since Jim died. I know it will stir up memories from the deep center of my heart, where all the pain surrounds. But I want to reclaim this music, so it can continue to wrap around my new life.

Camino by Oliver Schroer was our beloved Sunday music. Oliver walked the Camino de Santiago in 2004, composing songs and playing his violin in churches along the way. His music is aching, soulful and pure. I listened to it, cried, and listened again and again until I found a place of peace.

Oliver Schroer

Losing someone you love is a very interior process. It feels I am walking my own Camino. A long, mostly solitary, personal spiritual pilgrimage, to find and create new meaning from this life ahead.

Oliver wrote there is both wonder and struggle on the trail, as you get to know the earth one step at a time. “There was a time in our lives before the Camino, and there is a time after it.”

As for the time during it, there is an ancient Camino word “ultreia” to encourage all of us pilgrims: go farther, go higher.

 

Iron Cross Provence.pngFootstep Rouissillon

Fill My Heart with Gold

So many things vanished when you died. As my life moves forward in time, I’ve now reached my first Christmas without you. I absorb all of the absences.

The feeling of the bed all warm and snug like a nest, when you were sleeping beside me.

Smiling at each other the moment we first heard the church bells start to ring across the city on Christmas morning.

Hearing your voice and belly laughter as you enjoyed long, good conversations on the phone with your family.

Stockings stuffed full of little joyful surprises and thoughtfulness. Warm socks, new books, sweet treats, love notes.

The comforting sounds of you cooking in the kitchen, making something soulful and delicious in your French copper pot.

The Christmas Eve fire you made for us, sparkling wine in our wedding flutes, awaiting your eloquent annual toast. Our pup siting at your feet, waiting for her expected treat.

cozy-christmas

Your loving presence shaped the holidays in so many ways.

But a tidal wave has swept all of that away, and taken you, half my heart, and our Christmas out to sea.

And I am still here.

I am still here with our ornaments, and empty stockings, and French copper pot without your soulful meal simmering inside. I am still here, occupying one half of our bed, eating breakfast quietly across from your empty chair, reading Christmas cards now addressed to only me.

Everything is so very silent.

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After five months without you, I am still navigating this new, unfamiliar life. It’s not just Christmas that has changed this year. Everything has changed.

I know one truth.

If I am to not only survive but thrive in this new life, I must adapt to all of the change. This is hard work on every level.

I am still alive. Still breathing. My heart is still beating. The half of it remaining holds a love so great and expansive, it needs a place to go. There is still something inside of me to give to the world. I still have a desire to experience the world.

I want to remain open to life.

If you are gone, and I am still here, then I will fill up all this painful empty space with the most beautiful things I can find.

The most beautiful music, and sunrises, and bright moons and constellations.

If I am still here, then I will read more books, admire more art, and travel to new places. I will clear away what is non-essential and surround myself with only things that bring me joy. I will smile more often at strangers so that we might have more human connections. I will find ways to express all the love I have inside.

I will go forward in life. Even with a broken heart.

In Japan, there is a special art called kintsugi where broken ceramics are repaired with precious metals: gold, silver or platinum. Rather than hiding all the imperfections and cracks, this practice honors and celebrates them, recognizing that once repaired, the object is still of service in the world…with all of its changes, illuminated.

I am a broken bowl, to be filled with gold.

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Happiness is the Road

It’s been a long time since my last post. Many golden hours have come and gone. I must tell you why I’ve been gone.

yellow-crowned-sparrow

On the day of the spring equinox — my husband’s favourite day of the year, when the season holds the promise of birds migrating back to their nesting grounds, and new growth emerges from the earth — he became sick, and never quite recovered. Then he lost a lot of weight.

On the summer solstice, he was diagnosed with advanced pancreatic cancer. And then he died four weeks later. Gone from this earth, forever.

My own world disappeared underneath my feet.

In these past four hard months, as I have grieved and breathed and somehow emotionally faced each day, I’ve also rearranged my life at home, to help me cope with this sudden new reality. All the tasks we used to share as partners in life, are my responsibilities now. So I’ve been compelled to put order to things.

The other day while cleaning out the cupboard, I found the pillow cover I bought during our honeymoon in Crete. Tags still on, still tucked inside its original bag.

In my memory, I can still hear the shopkeeper try to translate the Greek words for me, in her broken, helpful English. There is no road to happiness. Happiness is the road.

It was the perfect keepsake for our journey. We had already traveled part of life together as colleagues, then as friends, then as a couple joining our worlds. Now we were starting a new chapter of our relationship together, our married life. The future was full of promise, like spring emerging.

From time to time since then, I’ve taken this keepsake out of the cupboard, admired it, but never bought a pillow for it. An incomplete project. Five years’ worth of good intentions. As it turns out, the whole of our married life.

So, the other day I went downtown and bought a pillow. And then finally, put our honeymoon pillow on the couch.

happiness-pillow

I felt sad, wishing my husband could see it. Why did it take me so long to do this simple thing?

But then something in me softened. Maybe I felt his hand gently on my shoulder. Maybe I heard his tender voice, the suggestion not to be so hard on myself, not to have regrets. After all, we’d been busy living life! We’d been enjoying all our time together. Every minute together. Living, loving, working, traveling, walking the beach at golden hours with our pup. Nothing important had been lost.

My perspective shifted. I saw the pillow now with a different meaningful purpose: to serve as an unexpected gift to my future self, to appear again at a time when I most needed to be reminded of love. To help me remember that happiness is not something you find, or lose, but something you create, something you are.

There is no road to happiness. Happiness is the road.

 

I have so loved every step of the road together, James Malcolm Martin. Thank you for all of this happiness.

A Year’s Worth of Happiness

One of the best things I did last year was keep a Happiness Jar. The intent was to capture small moments of joy, as an exercise of appreciation and gratitude. Some people keep a journal, but I liked the idea of filling an empty jar.

Last night, during the final few hours of 2015, I emptied the contents onto the dining room table to see what a year’s worth of happiness meant to me.

Readng Jar

The first thing that struck me, as I unfolded the first few slips of paper, was how many moments I’d already forgotten. Fleeting moments of happiness, flowing past in the stream of life, thankfully captured.

The first one said simply: “Hail!” I smiled wide. Now I remember that day! It was April 1st, I was working in my office, and suddenly the window panes started rattling with a spring storm. A memory reclaimed!

I unfolded the rest of the papers, one by one.

As it turns out, nature brought me an abundance of happiness. Bright stars, beautiful clouds, the luminous moon. Birds singing, gulls crying, hummingbirds zipping past. Cherry blossoms floating down from the trees. Flowers emerging in the garden. In these simple moments of connection with the natural world, I felt joy.

Sometimes, there were whole days of happiness.

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Sharing life with others brought me great happiness.

Valentine’s Day: “Hubby sent me upstairs to fetch something on the printer he ‘needed right away.’ It was a love poem.” My husband wrote me a poem! How could I have forgotten this? I must go upstairs and find it.

Random strangers also made me happy. There was the day I was flying home, gazing out the window at the snowy Rocky Mountains, when the man sitting in the row in front of me, poked his head between the seat headrests and exclaimed to me, “Isn’t it amazing?”

Yes. The mountains, and chance encounters with strangers, brought opportunities to experience le p’tit bonheur (the little happiness). As did warm visits with friends, family, and unexpected handwritten letters that came swooshing through our 100-year old mail slot.

I couldn’t help but wonder: Would I be inside anyone else’s happiness jar? I hope I created moments of happiness for others, through things I may have said or done last year.

With all my slips of paper unfolded, I thought about the great wealth of happiness that never made it into the jar.

The whole of our family reunion: meeting relatives from Finland, playing the mandolin with my father, visiting art museums, hiking trails along the Potomac River. All high points of the year; none of them captured. I had not written a single entry in either June or November. However, I do remember many times sitting at the kitchen counter, seeing the Happiness Jar in the corner, but not making the effort to write. If only I had overcome my inertia!

Perhaps, during our happiest times in life, we are fully immersed. And those experiences impact us in a more permanent way. They become our life stories, no note required.

Empty Jar

In total, there were 68 little time capsules in the jar: 60 happy memories; 7 contributions by family; and one fortune cookie message: “A windfall is coming for you.”

Indeed. One insightful project delivered this to me. A year’s worth of happiness arrived, exactly as predicted.

Becoming Finnish

It’s been 165 days since I last shared a post.

The whole of summer has gone by, and almost all of spring before it. The garden emerged, thrived, settled and is now resting. There was a lot of change at work, which required my focused attention. Still, the pup and I took many walks on the beach. And I had the opportunity to travel to the east coast and met some of my Finnish family for the first time.

Which brings me to this post. Something new has emerged from these 165 days and all the golden hours within them. Yesterday I finally gave birth, in a sense, to a companion writing space to A Golden Hour:

This blog was born in an airport lounge, when the universe handed me five unplanned hours.

My flight home from a short trip had been delayed, so I found a cozy spot in a quiet place where I could relax and pass the time. I listened to music, read the newspaper, sent a few emails, and ate a small dinner. Then I settled deep into my chair.

Gazing out the window, an idea surfaced that had been stirring for a while. I think perhaps it has been gently rising for more than a decade, ever since my grandmother passed away.

I hope you will share in my journey, becoming Finnish (and enjoy the rest of this post).

And I have many new Golden Hour thoughts to share in the days ahead. I appreciate you being here!

Source: Humble beginnings.

Kind Encounters

Something really lovely and random happened today.

It was along this stretch of the beach.

BeachI was doing my usual beachcombing, looking gently for bits of seaglass and heart-shaped rocks. I was aware of other people on the beach, passing by from time to time, but it seemed we were each in our own space of contemplation.

In a departure from my usual habits, I picked up a small black pebble with a lime green stripe. As I admired it in my palm, a thought went through my mind: Perhaps I will start to collect rocks with stripes.

At that moment, I heard a voice behind me. I turned around and saw a young woman smiling brightly at me. She said with so much sincerity:

“I meant to say hi to you when I walked past. I don’t know why I didn’t. So, I turned around and came back. Hi.”

Is that not the loveliest thing a stranger could say (and do)?

We have all had the experience of walking past someone, for some reason holding our words inside. Wanting to be courteous or kind, but also not wanting to interfere or disturb. Feeling an instinctive desire to help, or open a door, or pick up a dropped item, but missing the immediate moment to assist. Ultimately, not acting on our impulse to connect with a stranger, regretting afterwards that something held us back.

This young lady recognized this and reclaimed the moment.

I smiled, and spontaneously extended my hand and said the one thing that came to me, in that moment. Before the moment got away.

“Here is a pebble with a green stripe to go with your sweater.”