Archive for April, 2008

Beauty II

April 28, 2008

My friend Steve and I
had been photographing
in the Smokies
and were headed home.
It was late at night.
Sheets of rain were falling.
A semi traveled ahead of us,
pulling a huge stainless steel tank
designed for hauling some sort of liquid.
“Wow! Look at that!” Steve said, sitting upright.
I didn’t see anything other than slanting rain
and columns of headlights in the darkness.
“Look at those gorgeous light reflections
swirling on the back of that truck!”
Steve said, leaning forward.
I squinted to see what he was seeing.
Sure enough, there it was—
a surrealistic display of dancing light,
taking on ever new and dazzling forms
each time a car passed by.
It was as if we had our own kaleidoscope,
eight feet in diameter, right before us.
Steve was the one who excitedly recognized
that nighttime appearance of beauty.
I had not seen it myself.

Remembering that drive home, I state my belief:
beauty is everywhere around us.
We need not stand on a mountain peak
or linger beside a sunset-lit sea
to witness true presentations of beauty.
Loveliness may show itself in the way
sunlight filters through a nearby window
or radiance filters through a loved one’s eyes.
Beauty may make itself known in
an unexpected flash of color,
an interesting arrangement of shapes,
or a lovely design where you wouldn’t expect
such design to appear.
Life-giving beauty often manifests itself
ever so simply—
one solitary flower,
one dangling wisp of hair,
one luminous look on a face.
Ultimately beauty is a gift we’re given,
wherever we are,
whatever we’re doing.
We need only our eyes to open it.

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Beauty

April 25, 2008

I’ve been reading
recently about beauty.
What is beauty?
How do you know
when you see it
or hear it?
What are its signs?
What is its purpose?
In the midst of my readings
I came across this quotation
from the French writer Blaise Pascal:
In difficult times you should always carry
something of the beautiful in your mind.

My initial response to his advice,
well over three hundred years old,
was mild surprise.
The paying of attention to beauty,
I had tended to think,
was for other sorts of times.
Times of leisure, for example.
Or when we’re feeling particularly creative.
Or when we’ve become inspired.
But Pascal says,
“Be sure to maintain a connection with beauty
when times are tough.”
I believe his words must have arisen
from the truth of his own life.
He was in frail health
most of his adult life,
and often in physical pain.
He lived his last years without much companionship
and in relative poverty.
He died when he was only 38.

For some of us, this may be a time
of great difficulty.
Even if that’s not entirely the case,
we each have those moments that try us,
those days that wear on us.
Those are the times, Pascal says,
to carry something beautiful within,
in our minds, in our hearts.
Such are the times to let beauty shine its light
on our spirits, in our souls.
We’re encouraged to allow
what is lovely to see and hear and touch
to be close enough to us
that we can see it and hear it and touch it.
How close?
As close as our own minds, our own hearts.
The reason is simple.
When we carry something of beauty within,
that beauty will carry us.

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Time

April 22, 2008

Bernie and I were
in Charleston last week,
photographing springtime.
We spent three days
at Middleton Place,
an old plantation.
This is the home of the Middleton Oak,
a huge, lovely old tree, laden with Spanish moss.
It’s been around more than 500 years.
Photographing that particular tree was one purpose
of our journey.
Bernie made several pictures when we arrived.
I chose to wait.
People were standing under its extensive canopy;
I wanted to photograph the tree by itself.
Besides, the position of the sun wasn’t just right.
I would come back late in the day
when the sun was lower in the sky.
That evening I made my way there
only to be met by yellow police tape
fencing in the gigantic tree.
A mammoth limb had crashed to the ground,
creating an unsightly hole in its profile.
That night a second, larger branch broke off,
making the Middleton Oak even more lop-sided.
The next morning tree experts discovered
that many branches are becoming hollow.
It’s unsafe to go near anymore.
There’s nothing to be done.

Why do I write about this tree
in a space dedicated to thoughtful caregivers?
Because of the lesson I learned last week.
I waited to photograph that venerable tree,
sure I had all the time in the world.
But I was wrong—
the time I had was quite limited;
I just didn’t realize it.
So I missed the image
I had traveled 800 miles to make.
I learned that if we keep waiting
for the perfect time to do something,
we stand in real danger
of missing our opportunity.
If we hold back from saying
what we’d like to lovingly or joyfully say,
it may never get said.
Equally sad, it may never get heard.
Even if it seems we have all the time in the world,
we never know how much time
we really have.
So when an opportunity arises,
let us not dally.

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Target

April 17, 2008

Bill never regained
his full physical health
after his stroke.
He lost his job,
his sense of security,
and his independence.
Mostly he lost much of his self-esteem.
All this, of course, was very hard to deal with
and his feelings easily overflowed.
Often they came out as sadness or depression,
and understandably so.
But sometimes his feelings took another form:
anger.
He got angry at his wife, Ann,
very quickly and quite loudly.
He yelled at their children
about the smallest of matters.
Even the family dog didn’t escape his outbursts.
As the pressure within their home built,
Ann sought out a counselor
to help her understand and cope.
What did Ann come to understand?
Bill had lost his former sense of control.
He felt embittered about the unfairness
of what had happened.
He was resentful at those who lived normal lives
and who didn’t appreciate all they had.
He took offense at those who pitied him.
In truth he was mad at the world at large,
at life itself.
Who was within convenient range
when his feelings boiled over?
Not those who no longer came around.
Not the whole world at large.
Just those within easy reach—
the members of his family.
And with whom did he feel safe,
whether he understood it or not,
to ventilate such strong feelings?
Those who had long known him, long loved him,
and would do their best to accept him,
whatever he said or did.

The story of Bill and his family
is a common caregiver story.
Those who are most available to,
and most trusted by, a hurting care receiver
are also the most convenient targets,
and usually the safest.
That awareness may not make the anger
any more agreeable,
but it makes it more clear:
somewhere way down deep
love is at work.

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Gone

April 8, 2008

I’m gone for several days, photographing springtime in the Charleston, South Carolina area, looking for some visual themes for future entries here. I’ll return to writing The Thoughtful Caregiver on Thursday, April 17. In the meantime, I wish you thoughtfulness.

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Web

April 3, 2008

Mary and my wife Bernie
are very good friends.
They see one another
regularly.
Mary is very engaged
as a caregiver.
Her husband is in poor health,
with three separate medical conditions,
each very serious.
I spoke with Mary by herself recently
and asked about her caregiving—
what was hard and what wasn’t,
what helped and what didn’t.
She was clear about what helps a lot:
“I don’t like to burden family members
with all that continues to happen
and all that I feel in response.
It helps so much to turn to Bernie
to get things off my chest
when I need to.”
“Bernie finds your time together meaningful,”
I said, knowing that to be true.
“But,” Mary went on, “I don’t think she realizes
how much good it does when she listens
and lets me talk all I want.
It always helps me.
It also helps my children
because then they don’t have to hear
the same things over and over,
things that no one can change.
And it helps my husband
because after ventilating my feelings to Bernie,
I return to my role with more energy
and more acceptance.
When Bernie helps me,
she is helping many others too,
even if she doesn’t always know it.”

That’s a magic of thoughtful caregiving:
one act of care often splits off
in several different directions,
whether that’s intended or unintended,
touching the lives of unseen others.
It becomes less a direct line of care
and more an expanding web of care,
branching out every chance it gets.
Rather lovely, isn’t it?

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