Something Sublime for February ~ Friendship

IMG_4237I’ve been thinking a lot about the beauty of friendship. Our friends exist on a continuum from the most casual to the most intimate, but they all make life more worth the journey. Literature holds so many profound quotes about friendship, but I’m partial to this one from Winnie-the-Pooh, “A friend is one of the nicest things you can have and one of the best things you can be.”

A few days ago I hosted a few gal-pals to celebrate our dear friend’s 85th birthday and Galentine’s Day. The group of ladies that filled my living room ranged in age from 30 to 89. Most I’ve known my whole life but others I’ve met more recently, reminding us that a circle of friends can always get bigger. The cold and blustery day made being together feel that much warmer, and the memories will remain as sparkling as the punch, as sweet as the cake and as happy as the bouquet of flowers decorating the table.

Another day this week my husband and I attended a funeral visitation. Hundreds of people had come to say goodbye to their friend and offer condolences to her family. I was struck, though not surprised, how the line overflowed from the sanctuary and wound through the church. What a friend she must have been to her family, classmates, neighbors, co-workers, students, church, close friends and casual acquaintances. Several times I fought back tears at the example and victory of a life so well lived.

That same evening, we sat around a kitchen table playing dominoes with my lifelong friends and their dad. (I was in our friends’ wedding 37 years ago!) Our parents were all close friends for as long as we can remember, but there is only one left to play dominoes with us. I was so distracted by the bittersweet memories, I forgot most of the rules of Mexican Train and lost every single game, but it was an evening filled with the delight of friendship.

Now and then, the storm clouds of life make us especially grateful for those few special people who are there for us come rain or come shine. Just a couple of days ago, I needed to reach out to my closest crew for their support and guidance, and I only hope I can return the favor. Good old Pooh Bear said it best, “Anyone can show up when you’re happy. But the ones who stay by your side when your heart falls apart, they are your true friends.”

As good and true as friends can be, there is someone else we can always count on. As the hymn goes, “What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear. What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer.” I’m honored to count God among my dearest friends. I know he was there at our party, at the funeral, around the kitchen table and in that moment when everything seemed to be falling apart. “Can we find a friend so faithful who will all our sorrows share? Jesus knows our every weakness; take it to the Lord in prayer.” §

“We’ll be Friends Forever, won’t we, Pooh?” asked Piglet.
“Even longer,” Pooh answered.
~ A. A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

The Elegance of Friendship

IMG_1851A close friend and I meet for an early morning walk every Sunday morning. Exercise is secondary to spending time together. As we make our way down the sidewalks of the town where we both grew up, I sometimes imagine us as two little girls with matching brunette ponytails and hair bows walking to school together more than fifty years ago. We’ve been friends our entire lives.

Together we’ve experienced birthday parties, sleepovers, boyfriends, homework, graduations, weddings, new homes, children, grandchildren, aging parents, and a few things we’d never admit. I recently gave her a little sign that said, “We’ll always be friends. You know too much!”

Research has long shown friendship is an important factor in well-being. Loneliness and social isolation can increase risk of health conditions like depression, anxiety, heart disease, and stroke. A 2010 study at Brigham Young University concluded loneliness is as harmful to physical health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

Being in a true friendship gives us the opportunity to practice elegant social behaviors. Friendship requires us to be loyal, thoughtful, vulnerable, forgiving, and unselfish. A good friend shares life’s joys and sorrows and helps us become our best selves.

Friends can be people we’ve known forever or just recently met. We can make new friends anywhere there are people – work, museums, gyms, libraries, clubs, churches, parks, and classes. I have a wonderful new friend with whom I share many interests. Shortly after meeting her, she reminded me of that old Girl Scout song, “Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other gold.”

We don’t have to be the same age as our friends. Some of my closest friends are over eighty. I value their experience and their wisdom. They’re fun to hang out with, and they inspire me to stay physically and mentally active. On the other hand, I have friends half my age who try their best to keep me young and hip.

Sometimes we’re lucky enough to be related to our friends. Parents, children, siblings, and extended family members can offer a unique form of friendship and support. I’m personally blessed to be married to my best friend. Of course, we can’t forget our four-legged friends for unmatched loyalty and companionship.

As much as I love being with friends, I enjoy my own company, too. I think we each instinctually know our best balance of time spent in the company of others and time spent in solitude. It’s true if you make friends with yourself, you will never be alone. We must learn to treat ourselves well, speak kindly to ourselves, and lift ourselves up as we would a close friend.

Joan Walsh Anglund wrote and illustrated a charming children’s book in 1958 wonderfully titled, A Friend Is Someone Who Likes You. That’s really all a friend needs to do. Like us. Care for us. Have our back. And remember what Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “The only way to have a friend is to be one.” §

“A good friend is like a four-leaf clover, hard to find and lucky to have.”
~Irish Proverb

Featured Art ~ Childhood Idyll, William-Adolphe Bouguereau, 1900

The Elegance of Being a Fountain ~ 10 ways not to be a drain


My friend Lisa, who lives in Arizona, texted me a picture of her front porch this week. She and her husband placed a small Ukrainian flag on their garden gate and decorated each side with cheerful sunflowers. “They’re Ukraine’s national flower,” she told me. When I clicked on the “live” photo, I briefly heard her porch fountain trickling joyfully. I immediately thought how my friend epitomizes the expression, “Be a fountain, not a drain!”

Lisa and I have known each other since junior high, but we’ve grown closer the past several years. She became a loyal supporter of my blog, and our friendship has blossomed over shared interests and views on life. I must admit, Lisa is more naturally positive and upbeat than I, and she inspires me to emulate her optimistic and elegant demeanor. The personal photo she texted me demonstrated her caring, empathetic nature, and the unmistakable sound of her garden fountain doubled its grace.

I love fountains, and I know Lisa does, too. The sound of running water and inherent symbolism bring us comfort and joy. Leonardo da Vinci said, “Water is the driving force of all nature.” Life can’t exist without water, and many of us find peace in its sight and sound. When I see a fountain, I hear myself humming that Sunday school hymn, “deep and wide, deep and wide, there’s a fountain flowing deep and wide…”

As she often does, my friend filled me up at a time when I could really use it. People like Lisa remind us to be a fountain, not a drain. She inspired me to sit by our own fountain and contemplate these ten ways to live more elegantly.

  1. Be calming. There are more than enough people in the world who like to stir things up and play devil’s advocate. Let your presence be a calming and helpful influence.
  2. Be energetic. The water in a beautiful fountain is never dull and stagnant. Be full of energy and vitality.
  3. Be hopeful. Where there is water there is life, and life is always full of hope and promise.
  4. Be welcoming. A decorative fountain beckons all to come closer and rest in its hospitality.
  5. Be cool. Angry, hot-headed behavior seems to be acceptable these days, but try to keep your cool.
  6. Be refreshing. The world can make us weary. Do what you can to refresh your soul and pass it on.
  7. Be cheerful.  Bubbling water sounds a little like laughter. Make a joyful noise!
  8. Be gentle. Aim for your words and actions to be soothing, like water flowing from a fountain.
  9. Be clear. A fountain filled with dark, murky water loses its beauty. Be transparent and honest in your interactions.
  10. Be peaceful. There is so much conflict and disharmony in the world about which we can do little, but we can all work towards creating peace in our homes, relationships, and communities. §

The Lady & the Bird

The sun had just risen on a cold, crystal clear morning. My mates and I stopped for breakfast at one of our favorite spots serving a smorgasbord of thistle, suet, mealworms, peanut butter and, my personal favorite, black oil sunflower seeds.

After a posh breakfast, I was ready to warm up in the sunshine. I made a flourished circle around the feeders. Good day, chaps!

I spread my bright red wings and felt the wind at my back. What a brilliant morning! Not a cloud in the… WHAM! I hit the glass door hard. Lying on the ground, I saw my impeccably groomed feathers slowly flutter to the ground around me.

Bullocks. So this is how it ends. Bloody windows. Goodbye mates. Goodbye blue sky. Goodbye…wait a minute. I’m still alive! 

I tried to move but couldn’t. My heart was beating fast. I couldn’t catch my breath, and I was freezing. My thoughts turned to the red-shouldered hawk we’d seen hanging around lately. And just yesterday, there were two red foxes in this very yard. I was a sitting duck, so to speak.

The lady came out of the house wrapped in a blanket. “Oh no,” she said. “You poor thing.” She knelt down to get a good look at me. I slowly blinked my eyes to let her know I wasn’t completely snookered just yet. She hurried back inside and watched me through the blasted window.

Suddenly, I felt myself rising into the air. Blimey! What’s happening here? This is highly unusual. I’m going up to heaven. Yep, that’s what’s happening. Goodbye beautiful world!

The next thing I knew I was lying on a soft blanket in a box inside a warm house. I couldn’t have fought it if I wanted to. The lady sat next to me on the floor. “You’re going to be fine. Just warm up and rest,” she said.

I heard her on the phone with her husband, the nice bloke who keeps our feeders filled. “But it’s really cold out,” she said emphatically. “Yes, it would be very silly to bring him in the house,” she said in agreement.

For the next hour or so she stayed with me. It was an odd scene. Me, a wild cardinal, in the kitchen of a woman who chatted as if she’d invited me over for tea. After a proper nap, I was starting to feel like my old self. My breathing returned to normal, and I could wiggle my feet. Looking directly in the lady’s eyes, I cocked my head in my trademark adorable manner.

“Well, look at you!” she said. “You sure are handsome,” commenting on my impressive scarlet crest, ink black markings and mesmerizing eyes. I puffed out my formidable chest and moved my wings a bit.

She gently lifted me, box and all, and set me outside on the porch. “Well Sir, let’s see if you’re ready to fly,” she said. I gently tested my wings.

I was gobsmacked! They work! My wings work! I’m going to live! Well, this day wasn’t  complete rubbish after all. 

I settled back on the soft blanket for a few seconds and looked at the lady.

Cheers, my lady! I’ll be seeing you.

With a tear in her eye, she said goodbye. I flew out of the box and showed off a bit by doing a fancy loop. I perched on the porch railing and looked at her. If I’d had a hat, I would have tipped it.

With a wink and a nod, I asked a cheeky favor. Please don’t clean your windows quite so well. §

Things Unseen from the International Space Station

“There it is!” a woman said pointing to the dusky western sky. “I see it!” chimed another. Half a dozen others looked up to watch the bright light of the International Space Station move steadily from one horizon to the other.

At one point, it shimmered strangely directly above the small group of people who gathered around a glowing fire outside an apartment building on a chilly October evening in an ordinary town in America’s Heartland.

It was an impromptu get-together of residents including three widows, a single retired teacher, and a gentleman and his wife who needs constant care. Two others joined them, adult children each visiting their mothers from out-of-town.

Whether they were companions that evening out of chance or destiny, a feeling of fellowship passed over them as odd and surprising as a space station hovering 250 miles above.

From lawn chairs, they tracked the space station as it came into sight somewhere over Montana and five minutes later faded out of view over West Africa. Comments circled around the fire pondering ever-advancing technology, the future, and their own smallness in the universe.

As they stared into mesmerizing orange-blue flames, there was quiet conversation against a backdrop of nature’s nighttime noises and constellations that grew brighter in the darkening sky.

Inside the space station, roughly the size of a football field, a six-member crew conducts experiments in human research, space medicine, life sciences, physical sciences, astronomy and meteorology. They orbit the Earth every 92.68 minutes gathering data and testing hypotheses.

Despite costly and important research, it’s doubtful the crew could ever quantitatively measure or observe the most important qualities of the human spirit, like those displayed around the small gas fire pit more than a million feet below them.

Strength to carry on after losing a loved one.

Courage to face illness and pain.

Love to care for another person.

Determination to overcome loneliness.

Wisdom to keep learning and growing.

Hope to stay encouraged.

Service to community.

Faith to believe in a better world.

The cameras and crew on the International Space Station have awesome views of our planet, but what they couldn’t see as they orbited the Earth that chilly October evening was the human bond of unlikely friends sitting around a glowing fire outside an apartment building in an ordinary town in America’s heartland. §