~ awake in this moment, at home in the world ~


September 9, 2016
My friend Emily died recently. She was 89 years old and she had lived a long and beautiful life, but still her passing left a hole in my heart. The planet seems a little wobbly without her.

Emily was one of those rare souls who seemed to shine more intensely than the rest of us. She was filled with spirit and goodwill. She was kind and thoughtful and fearless and bold. She became your friend the instant she shook your hand for the very first time (no matter that she might be forty years your senior). She delighted in even the smallest cup of afternoon tea and also in the grandest proposals to change the world. Her devotion and good will convinced us all that the world was even more beautiful and wondrous than we had already thought. In addition to all her other gifts, Emily knew how to sing the praises of this life.

I worked with Emily at the White House when I was still in my twenties, and my brightest memories there include Emily and her strong Yankee presence and zest for life. Her spirit and her delight were magnetic and infectious. She could find the good in anyone and anything. She said yes more than no. And she seemed able  - through sheer, magnanimous will and delight - to make just about anything happen.

Emily managed to get the Queen of England to plant a tree on the White House lawn. (We got to watch.) She convinced the president to urge us all to plant trees to help create a greener world. (And she managed to get us into the motorcade to hear the speech in person.) Cheered on by youthful interns, Emily even befriended the Grateful Dead and took her younger friends with her to a concert with her VIP tickets and backstage passes. (No matter that she was sixty - she introduced us to John Barlow during the intermission and later marveled at all the stoned teenagers in the parking lot.) There was no delight too small for Emily and no cause too large to embrace.

Sometimes when the world seems dim and small, I imagine I am sitting once again with Emily by my side. I remember how safe and sheltered I felt in her orbit, and how wonderful, too. I remember how my vision would shift when I was with her, with everything seeming to sparkle just a little more than I had noticed before. I try to take on her vision and see the world through her eyes.

I wonder what we would talk about. I imagine what small detail in the life before us she would marvel at. I lean in to hear what brilliant musing she would share with me. I hear her chirping voice and her strong laugh, and feel my heart brighten just a bit, as Emily’s sparkling presence returns me to a place of wonder and delight.

Perhaps you, too, have an Emily in your life, someone who helps you see the world in living color, who reminds you that you are larger than you thought you were, who reassures you that the beauty will inevitably outshine the despair, and who returns you to your own good heart.

And if so, perhaps you might use that dear one as a muse, just as I hold Emily close to me, coaxing your heart out of hiding and reminding you to savor each morsel of delight that comes your way. When your vision is dim, perhaps you can call upon the eyes of your friend and let that person remind you how to rejoice in the blessings of the world.

Or perhaps you don’t even need a muse. Maybe rejoicing comes naturally to you and you can lift your gaze and find a delight that lifts you back up onto your feet. And maybe you will even live your way into being a "rejoicing muse" for someone else.

Either way, let’s take up rejoicing practice with whole heart and soul. Let’s take time each day to marvel, to give thanks, and to sing out in joy. Let’s marvel over an extraordinary act of kindness, the sweet crunch of the blueberry muffin, the shape of the wind just as it shifts across the landscape just now. Let’s exercise our muscles of delight and stay in close touch with the many mysterious beauties of the world.

Let's take to heart poet Wendell Berry's words: "Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In everything give thanks."

Like my friend Emily, let’s sing out and share these wonders with those around us. Let's not keep life's glories to ourselves. Let’s change the course of the day by naming its delights. Let’s help one another through those moments when our vision begins to falter. Let’s direct one another’s eyes toward the brilliant and the bold.

We can start right now, by naming ten beautiful things we can rejoice over in our lives. We can sit down next to someone we love and whisper to them three wondrous things we love about them. Like Mr. Putter in those classic children's stories by Cynthia Rylant, we can pull out a piece of paper, write down, "Good Things," and start a list of all our loveliest loves. We can even offer "Happy Reports" at the dinner table, as my family learned to do from this wonderful essay by the ever-wise Katrina Kenison. The possibilities for rejoicing are endless.

I have a feeling that as we do this, our love for the world will deepen even more. Life will shine just a little more brightly. And together we will remember what a gift it is just to be here, now, together, celebrating this singular moment of goodness and glory. This truly is a moment for rejoicing.

This essay was written for Dwelling in the Heart, Claudia's 2016 online lovingkindness immersion.