The Joy of Having & Being a Muse

A muse is a source of creative inspiration. Muses are typically women and originated in Greek mythology when the nine daughters of Zeus presided over particular areas of the arts. A much loftier word for mentor, a muse can help us create our best life. We can all use a muse or two, and we should all aspire to be one.

In her poignant autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou describes a distinguished neighbor named Mrs. Bertha Flowers. About Mrs. Flowers, Angelou writes, “She had the grace of control to appear warm in the coldest weather, and on the Arkansas summer days it seemed she had a private breeze which swirled around, cooling her.”

Mrs. Flowers became a muse to young Maya (then Marquerite Johnson) and changed her life by exposing her to literature and other “lessons in living.” Angelou writes, “She was one of the few gentlewomen I have ever known, and has remained through my life the measure of what a human being can be.”

Just a year before Angelou died at age 86, I had the opportunity to attend a lecture of hers. Wearing an elegant black dress and pearls, she was a queen who sat on her throne bestowing wisdom, wit, and her own lessons in living. From the moment she walked on stage until the moment she regally exited, a lump formed in my throat, my eyes filled with tears, and I had goosebumps that lasted for days. Only a muse can inspire such a reaction.

Another muse of mine is contemporary philosopher and author Alexandra Stoddard. Through her books and lectures, Stoddard has inspired millions to pursue the art of living. In her book Time Alive, she offers this wake-up call, “Our time alive is brief by any standard. Now is the only opportunity we’ll have to give our life meaning and find satisfaction.”

In nearly all of her twenty-eight books, Stoddard mentions her own muse, Eleanor McMillen Brown, who founded the interior design company McMillen, Inc. in 1924. Brown was considered a pioneer in her field and built a reputation on her ability to combine great style with a keen sense of business.

Finding a muse, or mentor, is a personal journey. She may be someone you admire from afar, or someone you are fortunate to know well. She might even be a fictional character who has become flesh and blood in your mind.

While turning to a muse can help us improve our lives, at some point, we should consider paying it forward by serving as a muse, or mentor, to someone else. A mentor provides guidance, motivation, support, and serves as a role model to their protege.

Some people serve as a muse without even realizing it. In my neighborhood, there are three savvy ladies over seventy-five whom I often see waterskiing, hiking, and doing serious yard work. They unwittingly inspire me to live an active, vigorous life.

As sage women, others are watching us. Remembering this keeps us more accountable for our own conduct and behavior. We may never fill the shoes of Mrs. Bertha Flowers, but we can all aim to be a true gentlewoman and measure of what a human being can be.

Thank you for reading The Simple Swan. I hope you will leave a comment. Who is your muse? Do you mentor anyone? I love knowing what you think!

Parking Lot Rainbows

Most of us have had the chance to visit a place of magnificent beauty. Maybe you stood in awe at the edge of the Grand Canyon, watched dolphins frolic in ocean waves, hiked to a waterfall on a snowcapped mountain, or gazed at the northern lights. Those experiences become etched in our memory and remind us of the grandeur of our world, but natural beauty can be found almost anywhere. The wise and wonderful Maya Angelou wrote, “Open your eyes to the beauty around you. Open your mind to the wonders of life.”

I recently ran into the grocery store in a cold, driving rain. I struggled to control my umbrella as the wind blew it inside out. Sloshing and shivering through the aisles, the shoppers’ expressions looked as worn and tired as their winter coats. When I left the store, I was stunned to see the sky awash in a surreal post-storm glow and a full rainbow stretch over rows and rows of dirty cars. The parking lot was filled with people who stopped their carts and smiled heavenward.

Just this week, a surprise gift from nature brought comfort and joy to my mom and me. After 24-hours in the emergency room, she was taken by ambulance to a hospital an hour away. I followed in my car, accompanied by an immense orange sun that transformed the sky into an entertaining show of vibrant color until dramatically sinking into a cornfield. When I met my mom in her hospital room she quietly said, “Did you see the sunset? I watched it all the way here through the ambulance window.” In a time of distress, my mother chose to open her eyes to the beauty around her. I feel sure such a positive attitude will help her heal after unexpected surgeries.

There are natural wonders of the world that you and I may never see. Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, Africa’s Victoria Falls, and the Himalaya’s Mount Everest probably won’t become entries in my travel journal, but there are still amazing everyday sights to be seen.

In her book Open Your Eyes, Alexandra Stoddard wrote, “I’ve found most people go through life half blind. Few really know how to see and as a result are unaware of the majesty and beauty around them. But seeing can be learned, and to those who learn to see well, the world becomes an entirely different place. ”

As we make our way through our days, we can look for natural wonders wherever we may find ourselves. Daisies pushing through sidewalk cracks, chickadees singing on porch railings, clouds in the shape of a heart, and parking lot rainbows seem to show up when most needed to bring happiness, encouragement, and hope to those who open their eyes. ยง

One Sun Wishes Us All a ‘Good Morning’

Driving home from a weekend visit with my daughter in Chicago, I left the city before dawn to beat the Monday morning traffic. As I-90 led me into Indiana, the sky was dark and lonely, lit only by the glow of automated toll booths.

I had all but forgotten about the sunrise, as it was the kind that bursts rather than creeps into view. Suddenly the eastern sky exploded with blinding light, illuminating the sprawling steel mill that sputters and spews on Gary’s lakeshore.

It was magnificent! I instantly felt the sun energize my groggy mind and body. “Good morning,” I said aloud to no one and to everyone.

I thought of Maya Angelou’s poem On the Pulse of the Morning which ends ~“Here, on the pulse of this new day, You may have the grace to look up and out, And into your sister’s eyes, Into your brother’s face, your country, And say simply, Very simply, With hope, Good morning.”

My husband voluntarily rises before the sun nearly every morning. I do not, but the next day I inexplicably woke before dawn. I pulled on jeans over my pajamas, slipped on my sneakers and coat, and ran outside to greet the sun. The morning magic included a thick mist rising up from an invisible lake, a flock of graceful geese flying overhead, and five deer quietly foraging for breakfast.

My sun came up behind thick woods beyond a golden field in the Midwest, yet I vaguely understand the same sun rose over mountains, oceans, deserts, farms, and cities. It rose over mansions and huts. It rose over my house and yours.

I confess it’s difficult for me to wrap my head around that, as well as the sun’s scientific role. It is a star and the source of energy for life on Earth. It provides us light and heat. It allows plants to conduct photosynthesis, creating food to eat and oxygen to breathe. Its reflection off the moon offers a nightlight. It is the gravitational center of our solar system, keeping the planets in place. We use it to mark our days and our years.

What’s easier for me to grasp is the inspiration the sun offers poets, mystics, and artists, and the reason I was outside at dawn in my jammies watching it make its daily debut. Each sunrise brings with it a unifying reminder of the incomprehensible mystery, beauty, and wisdom of our universe.

No matter our differences, the sunrise is our common denominator ~ faithfully shining equally on every upturned, wishful face. So we can all wake up and say, very simply, and with hope, “Good morning!”