Beach Messages

This morning on the beach I noticed an unusual piece of junk.

The sea had given back this rusted, antique Remington typewriter.

Oh, the curiosities that came to mind!

Maybe a writer had tossed it overboard in a moment of frustration.

Maybe a storm swept it in from a foreign land.

Maybe it was Hemingway’s.

The typewriter was in recognizable but poor condition.

There were only a few keys left, but by some mysterious coincidence, the two initials that held the most significance to me. What are the odds!

I plucked them off and put them in my pocket.

It seemed to be a message from the universe: keep on writing. Or keep on loving. Or both.

I promise I will.

PS – If your name is Owen or Oprah, there is still the ‘O’ key left.

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. Afterall, 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.

image

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.

A leather bound book.

I love old things with soul.

Old, soulful, worn but still purposeful objects from another time and place that have been loved before. I am drawn to certain of these things by an irresistible force of nature.

One of these soulful old things beckoned to me yesterday. I was out for my usual Saturday walk, a random meandering through neighbourhood streets and parks — when I decided to peek inside a local consignment shop.

Leather BookThere on a table near the entrance was a small brown book. A lovely, old leather bound book.

The Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson, edited by Sidney Colvin.

I picked it up, feeling its gentle weight in my hand. The leather was so soft. I don’t think I’d ever held a leather bound book before.

I turned open the cover and let the pages fall open to a natural, familiar place — perhaps a favourite passage of the previous owner. My eyes landed on these words:

“If you had seen the moon last night! It was like transfigured sunshine; as clear and mellow, only showing everything in a new wonderful significance. The shadows of the leaves on the road were so strangely black that Dowson and I had difficulty in believing that they were not solid, or at least pools of dark mire.”

The moon! Now I was drawn into this little book’s spell. I was vaguely aware of the chatter of people moving behind me in the shop, but their voices blurred into the background, while the space encircling me and this small leather book was ‘clear and mellow.’

How old was this book? I gingerly turned a few wispy pages near Leather Book Datethe front. 1912, over a century ago, about the same age as my house. You know, I have a lovely old bookcase in my hundred year old house that might like to hold this hundred year old book.

By now I could feel the leather becoming warm underneath my hand. I was already starting to feel attached. I felt reluctant to put it back down on the table, in case another browser saw the error of my ways and quickly picked it up, thinking I’d passed it over. I didn’t actually know if the book had any collectible value. All I could feel was its heart value.

I flipped through a few more pages, considering whether this book and I were meant to go home together. I then turned to the introduction and read these few words:

“The circumstances which have made me responsible for selecting and editing the correspondence of Robert Louis Stevenson are the following. He was my closest friend.”

His closest friend. That was enough. My decision was sealed. This book was a personally curated collection of letters, a labour of love from an old friend, to show the ‘richness of his nature’ and repay him for ‘inestimable’ affection and confidence.

With the warm soft feel of leather in my hands, the age and grace of the binding, the lure of the words inside, and the compelling introduction, I had no choice. The serendipity of the moment was also clear. This book had chosen me to be its next steward.

Robert Louis Stevenson was an author — a novelist, essayist, poet and travel writer. All of the things I aspire to be, an identity I hope to chisel, over this next phase of my life. Perhaps because it seems such an honour to touch and improve someone else’s life, including across time and in another place. Which makes me recall an old saying: when the student is ready, the teacher appears. I look forward to reading this old leather bound book and learning from a great teacher.

Struggle, and progress.

Waterlogue Tall Tree by Karin“Good timber does not grow with ease:
The stronger wind, the stronger trees;
The further sky, the greater length;
The more the storm, the more the strength.
By sun and cold, by rain and snow,
In trees and men good timbers grow.”

Douglas Malloch, American Poet

This post inspired today by a gentle comment in Humans of New York.
Full poem by Douglas Malloch here.

The little happiness.

“There areSmall Rose times when it is hard to believe in the future, when we are temporarily just not brave enough. When this happens, concentrate on the present. Cultivate “le petit bonheur” (the little happiness) until courage returns. Look forward to the beauty of the next moment, the next hour, the promise of a good meal, sleep, a book, a movie, the likelihood that tonight the stars will shine and tomorrow the sun will shine. Sink roots into the present until the strength grows to think about tomorrow.” – Ardis Whitman (American author)