The Elegance of Getting Through Thorny Times

IMG_1671“I beg your pardon, I never promised you a rose garden. Along with the sunshine, there’s gotta be a little rain sometime.” Lately I’ve been humming those lyrics from a 1970 country song. As much as this optimistic romantic wishes it to be, life isn’t always a bed of roses.

We all deal with difficult things in life. Personal challenges may involve our health, relationships, work, children, finances, grief, anxiety and a host of other issues that can seem more like a heap of fertilizer than a bouquet of flowers. I’ve learned there are things we can do to help us navigate those inevitable thorny times with elegance.

Seek professional help. First and foremost, realize if your needs require the help of a professional. There is never shame in seeking professional help. Caring people are trained to address our physical and mental wellness. If you don’t know where to start, call your primary care doctor, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or go to MentalHealth.gov.

Nurture yourself with nature. “Mother nature has the power to please, to comfort, to calm, and nurture one’s soul,” wrote Anthony Douglas Williams. The evening of my mother’s death, a friend texted me a picture of an impossibly brilliant sunset with instructions to go look out the window. That memorable sunset provided me deep comfort that I still hold in my heart.

Create beauty where you can. I was recently in the hospital for a few days and did everything I could to make my surroundings prettier. My husband removed the typical hospital clutter from the main shelf in my view and replaced it with some gorgeous flowers and a sweet gift from a friend. A nurse raised the blinds each morning to let in the sunshine. Classical music from my phone filled the room. One afternoon when I felt particularly gloomy, I pulled out a perfume sample from my purse and spritzed it around my bed. No matter where we find ourselves, there are things we can do to make our place a little more beautiful.

Pamper yourself. During that hospital stay, I also did what I could to make myself feel as well as I could under the circumstances. Since I was attached to needles, tubes, and beeping machines, my husband carefully shampooed my hair in the sink. Although it wasn’t cute, I made sure to put on a fresh hospital gown every day. I slathered my feet and legs with rose-scented body lotion. I filed my nails and kept my face and lips well-moisturized. I’m convinced all these little efforts helped me feel better and make a speedier recovery.

Take a break from the news. When we are going through a difficult time, we need to treat ourselves more gently. One way we can do that is by taking a break from the news which is almost always upsetting and depressing. World events will go on without us, and we can always catch up with it when we’re feeling stronger.

Lean into your faith. Times of crisis and uncertainty can be an opportunity for our faith to grow. Passages and parables can offer strength, encouragement, and understanding. A familiar hymn can take on new meaning. Martin Luther King said, “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”

Lift your own spirits. We all have simple, positive things we can do to brighten our own day. Maybe we enjoy watching a funny movie, reading a mystery, taking a long walk, playing the piano, or baking cupcakes. It’s good to know we always have the ability to lift ourselves up when we’re feeling down.

Help someone. Mark Twain said, “The best way to cheer yourself up is to try to cheer somebody else up.” Helping others gives us purpose, gets our mind off our own problems, and makes everybody feel good. Call someone you know is lonely, lend a neighbor a hand, or get plugged-in to volunteer somewhere.

Be grateful. No matter what we’re going through, we must still count our blessings. Remember what French novelist Alphonse Karr wrote in the 1800s, “You can complain because roses have thorns, or you can rejoice because thorns have roses.” §

The Elegance of Growth

The anticipation of spring has me longing to write about growth, that natural urge to enrich and improve ourselves and our lives. On this bright and sunny morning I decide, for some reason, the public library is the place that will bring inspiration. 

Except for wifi, the C.E. Brehm Memorial Public Library hasn’t changed much since I came here as a child. I walk up the staircase toward the second floor where I sometimes studied in high school and become lost in the memory of a little girl in a plaid dress and ponytails reaching up to tightly grasp the oak banister. My hand slides along the railing, worn silky smooth from use, and I find myself on the third floor where the children’s section used to be, and still is. 

My childlike voice surprises me when I timidly whisper hello to the librarian. I quietly position myself at a small table hoping to be inspired by an ancient budding elm tree just outside the window. Sitting awkwardly in a small wooden chair, I ignore my laptop and let every sight, sound, and smell of the familiar space wash over me like a spell. 

Rising dreamlike, I slowly run my hand along a bookshelf, lightly touching the spines of Sounder, James and the Giant Peach, The Secret Garden, The Chronicles of Narnia. I smile at them like old friends.

For nearly an hour I try to focus on writing, but I’m distracted by a little girl I once knew sitting cross-legged in the corner lost in the big woods with Laura and Pa. I shake her out of my mind and read the quote I had jotted down by Mr. Twain. 

“What’s the most rigorous law of our being? Growth. No small atom of our moral, mental, or physical structure can stand still a year. It grows – it must grow smaller or larger, better or worse – it cannot stand still. In other words, we change, and must change, constantly and keep on changing as long as we live.”

Springtime helps us understand what Twain was talking about. Butterflies and birds, flowers and leaves, offer tangible reminders of the miracle and beauty of growth. The transformation that comes each spring is easier for us to appreciate than the much slower moral, mental, and personal growth to which Twain refers.

“Change is inevitable. Growth is optional,” said John Maxwell. But grow we must, as individuals, as a nation, as a global society. Going backwards, regression, is not growth, even when shrouded as nostalgia, heritage, or tradition. Growth is natural, essential, often painful, but ever so elegant. 

We may find ourselves sitting in the same place, in the same chair, reading the same book as we did a lifetime ago. We should drink in the memories, yet delight in knowing every feeling, every thought, every word is new, because we are new. We are faithfully growing in body, mind, and spirit, like flowers in springtime. §

“Watching something grow is good for morale. It helps us believe in life.”
~ Myron S. Kaufman

The Elegance of Getting Dressed

Mark Twain famously said, “Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.” In comparison to serious global and personal challenges, how we dress may seem silly and of little consequence. The fact remains that most of us wear clothes. No matter our personal style, the simple act of getting dressed can add everyday elegance to our lives from morning to night.

For the sake of clarity, let’s define getting dressed as the process of basic hygiene, good grooming, and selection of an appropriate outfit to wear. There does seem to be an increasingly popular trend of not getting dressed, as if life is one big come-as-you-are-party. It probably goes without saying that this choice will not inspire elegance. 

The decision to get dressed each morning can become a pleasant routine that starts the day on the right foot. Wearing something that feels uncomfortable, unattractive, or inappropriate makes for a long day. We might even feel sluggish, sad, or snippy. Once we take the time to get dressed, we can forget about what we’re wearing and seize the day with enthusiasm and confidence. 

Most people interpret the effort to look our best as a nod of respect to ourselves and others. A jaunty hat, a pretty dress, or a sharp jacket can bring smiles from complete strangers throughout the day. Perhaps more importantly, getting dressed will be appreciated by the people in our own homes and the person in the mirror. As fashion designer Tom Ford said, “Dressing well is a form of good manners.”

An evening ritual of changing out of our daytime clothes and getting ready for bed lets our mind and body know it’s time to wind down. This is a good time to consider how our clothes functioned in our real, everyday life. Over time, we can say goodbye to so-so items and curate a closet filled with things we love. It’s also a perfect time to feel grateful for all we have, including  our clothing. 

“Get up, dress up, show up, and never give up,” said contemporary writer Regina Brett. There are many things in life outside of our control, but getting dressed isn’t one of them. The simple routine of getting dressed each day is an opportunity to add beauty and elegance to our lives and to those around us. §

“Never wear anything that panics the cat.”
~ P. J. O’Rourke