Like a Swan ~ inspiration for living with grace, simplicity, and joy

The Swans, 1900 by Joseph Marius Avy

Many times I’ve been asked why I named this blog The Simple Swan. I suppose I’ve always had an affinity for this elegant bird that graces the scenes of art, literature, and ballets.

My earliest encounter with storybook swans was Hans Christian Andersen’s tale of The Ugly Duckling and its powerful message of transformation, kindness, and love. Who can resist the idea that no matter how awkward and rejected we feel, deep down we are all beautiful swans?

Another favorite novel of mine is E.B. White’s Trumpet of the Swan. It tells the sweet story of a trumpeter swan, Louis (cleverly named for Louis Armstrong), who learns several lessons in his journey first to self-love and eventually to true love with a beautiful swan named Serena.

My love for swans was sealed when I was a little girl taking dance lessons. My mother took my sisters and me to a production of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, and I was mesmerized. Ever since, a lovely picture book of the ballet has had a place on my shelf.

Seeing swans in nature only increases their fictional dreaminess for me. As I watch swans regally float on the water, I’m inspired by their natural poise, beauty, and simplicity. They might be paddling like crazy just below the surface, but they always appear to serenely glide through life.

When my own children reached the same age as the eighth graders I taught, I had a daily routine of stopping by a park on the way home from school. For fifteen minutes or so, I would sit in my car and watch the swans on the small peaceful lake.

In the midst of hectic days blessed by teenagers at work and home, the swans soothed my soul and reminded me how I wanted to show up in the world as a teacher, parent, and human being.

Especially now, as I near my sixties, swans seem to possess a wise and mature sense of joy. They aren’t showy like peacocks or cute and flighty like chickadees. Swans represent the simple, refined, and deep contentment I seek in my own life.

No matter what life brings, we can at least aim to effortlessly glide through both the seasons of the year and the seasons of life inspired by the serenity, grace, and joy of a simple swan. §

A television icon we will miss – Who is Alex Trebek?

Alex Trebek will be missed at our house. Since 1984, no matter what was going on in the news or our personal lives, we could count on him to lead us in a half hour of cerebral fun. For millions of people like us, who knew him only as a nightly game show host, Trebek was a reassuring and constant role-model of grace, wit, and wisdom.

Jeopardy was on the hospital room television when I was in labor with my first child. It was an easy delivery, and I had just enough pain meds to play along between pushes. I wish I could remember the final Jeopardy question on that July evening in 1990, but I do know my little girl arrived at 7:33 pm. The doctor, who was also a Jeopardy fan, remarked how considerate it was for her to wait until after the final question.

My daughter must have been blessed by Alex Trebek and sprinkled with some Jeopardy fairy dust as she was born, because she grew up with a real love of learning. Recently she and her husband, who are both attorneys, worked from our house for a couple of weeks during the pandemic. As we tuned-in to Jeopardy each evening, they consistently beat the pants off my husband and me.

Mike and I usually have great fun competing against each other for nightly Jeopardy bragging rights. I’d say we’re pretty evenly matched except when a sports or literary category gives one of us a clear advantage. My daughter and son-in-law left us silent, as they gave answer after answer before we could even process the question. For that reason alone, we were glad when they went back home.

Like most people, we knew of Trebek’s diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. We were glad to see him looking so well on the current taped shows and hoped he would get a miracle. In an interview last year, Trebek said, “I’m not afraid of dying. I’ve lived a good life, a full life, and I’m nearing the end of that life.” His comment is reminiscent of my father’s positive attitude while facing cancer.

When people we admire die, we are reminded our time on earth is finite, and every era must come to an end. We will all leave behind a legacy, and we will all be remembered for what we did, how we behaved, and how we made people feel. Trebek had a long career as a celebrity who managed to avoid scandal and embarrassing public fall from grace. I will truly miss seeing his genial face and elegant demeanor on our television each night.

We can all learn a few things from Alex Trebek. “My life has been a quest for knowledge and understanding, and I am nowhere near having achieved that,” he said. “And that doesn’t bother me in the least. I will die without having come up with the answers to many things in life.” 🙂

Question of the Week: Are you a Jeopardy fan? Do you have any personal memories of the show or of the host, Alex Trebek? Please respond in the comment section. I wish you a week filled with all the right answers!

The Goodness of Snow

Freshly falling snow always takes me back to my first memory of its beauty and inspires me to embrace its goodness.

It was a sunny Easter morning, and I woke up as happy and light as a five-year-old could be. Wearing my bunny nightgown, I stepped into our tiny blue bathroom and gasped. Just outside the window was a bright orange robin perched on a branch covered in white. She chirped excitedly, “Snow! Snow! SnowSnowSnow!” 

Standing on my tip-toes and peering over the window ledge, my whole world glittered. The smell of dad’s shaving cream lingered in the bathroom. The fluffy layer covering every budding tree limb and blade of new grass looked as if it came from a can of Old Spice. I was certain it smelled just as clean and fresh, and I could hardly wait to scoop up a handful and hold it to my nose…

The old memory melted away as I noticed it was snowing harder. Thick snowflakes floated to the ground in slow-motion whispering these magical words.

Soft…

In his poem The Dream Keeper, Langston Hughes spoke of the “too-rough fingers of the world.” A dear friend recently confided that the world was making her hard. I understood her concern, but I know better. My friend has the kind of heart that will allow her to stay soft. The more jagged and edgy the world becomes, the more I want to be a softer presence.

Pure…

Purity is synonymous with virtue, goodness, integrity, honesty and decency. We are never going to be perfect, but aiming to live a life of good character isn’t old-fashioned or unsophisticated. We have a choice about what we listen to, watch, read, say, do and even think. Being aware of what we put into our heads and hearts helps us reflect what we value.

Gentle…

St. Francis de Sales wrote, “Nothing is so strong as gentleness and nothing is so gentle as real strength.” My husband is one of the most gentle human beings I know. He inspires me to be more tender in my actions, interactions and reactions. We can learn to be gentle without being a pushover or a doormat.

Quiet…

It’s a noisy world. Restaurants are so loud it’s impossible to converse. Music thumps from the car in the next lane. Shoppers blab into cell phones while roaming store aisles. People interrupt to make their point. It’s useless to shout over the din. It’s said if you want someone’s attention, whisper.

Grace…

The freshly fallen snow makes everything appear perfect and beautiful, not the slushy dirty mess that is real life. Perhaps a beautiful snowfall is nature’s reminder of the grace that falls down on us to cover our imperfections, heal our hurts and return us to the innocence of a child amazed by her first snow. §