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.” §

‘Merry Autumn’ – a seasonal poem and art project

I had so much fun making this wax paper, crayon, and leaf collage. Make your own to relax, flex your creativity, and celebrate fall!

While we were preoccupied with our collective concerns during this difficult year, spring and summer came and went and autumn faithfully arrived in all its golden glory. Immersing ourselves in a seasonal poem and simple art project can bring calm, creativity, and celebration of a new season.

For some reason, many classic poems about autumn are a bit depressing. Shakespeare referred to this time of year “As the deathbed when it must expire.” Robert Frost penned, “Then leaf subsides to leaf, so Eden sank to grief.” Emily Bronte wrote of fall, “I shall sing when night’s decay ushers in a drearier day.”

As beautiful as those poems may be, they don’t exactly inspire cheer. Thankfully, Paul Lawrence Dunbar favors a merry autumn over a solemn one. I especially love the lines, “The earth is just so full of fun, it really can’t contain it.”

Merry Autumn by Paul Lawrence Dunbar

It’s a farce, – these tales they tell
About the breezes sighing.
And moans astir o’er field and dell,
Because the year is dying.

Such principles are most absurd –
I care not who first taught ’em;
There’s nothing known to beast or bird
To make a solemn autumn.

In times, when grief holds sway
With countenance distressing,
You’ll note the more of black and gray
Will then be used in dressing.

Now purple tints are all around;
The sky is blue and mellow:
And e’ven the grasses turn the ground
From modest green to yellow.

The seed burrs all with laughter crack
On featherweed and jimson;
And leaves that should be dressed in black
Are all decked out in crimson.

A butterfly goes winging by
A singing bird comes after;
And Nature, all from earth to sky,
Is bubbling o’er with laughter.

The ripples wimple on the rills,
Like sparkling little lasses;
The sunlight runs along the hills
And laughs among the grasses.

The earth is just so full of fun
It really can’t contain it;
And streams of mirth so freely run
The heavens seem to rain it.

Don’t talk to me of solemn days
In autumn’s time of splendor,
Because the sun shows fewer rays,
And these grow slant and slender.

Why, it’s the climax of the year, –
The highest time of living! –
Till naturally its bursting cheer
Just melts into thanksgiving.

Paul Lawrence Dunbar, born in 1872, was one of the first African American poets to gain national recognition. His heartwarming short story ‘The Finish of Patsy Barnes’ is one of my favorites.

Reading and thinking about Dunbar’s Merry Autumn, may put you in the mood to do this art project. No matter how grown-up we get, throwing ourselves into something fun and creative can do wonders for our mental health.

Fall Art ProjectWax Paper Leaf Collage:

Supplies: wax paper, leaves, crayons, dull knife, piece of cloth, iron
Basic Instructions:
1. Go outside and collect a few colorful leaves.
2. Arrange leaves on a piece of wax paper.
3. Using a dull knife, cut a few crayons into small pieces. (I made mine about the size of peppercorns.)
4. Scatter crayon pieces around leaves on wax paper.
5. Lay another piece of wax paper on top of leaves and crayon pieces.
6. Place a piece of cloth over wax paper. (A cloth napkin works well.)
7. Press heated iron onto cloth until crayons melt and wax paper is fused together. Do not let iron directly touch wax paper. Lift and press iron to keep colors from running together too much.
7. Display your fall art project in a window or wherever makes you happy.

Question of the Week: What is your favorite thing about autumn? Leave your answer and any other reaction to today’s post in the comment section. I’d love to see a photo of your fall art project! Please email it to me at Alicia@thesimpleswan.com. Wishing you a week spent enjoying “autumn’s time of splendor.”