“I have drunken deep of joy, And I will taste no other wine tonight.”― Percy Bysshe Shelley
Grammy’s eyes were closed, but she was awake. She had a bad bout with pneumonia. She seemed to be feeling better now. The antibiotics had helped; her immune system had responded. Though weak, her appreciative spirit remained strong.
“Grammy” is, was, my mother-in-law. She was on her way to one hundred and one years old. Yes, you read that right. She was over 100 years old. And for as long as I had known her, she had been in love with nature, especially trees.
Some of us can feel a warm bubble of pleasure when we see a nice sunset. Once I even heard a respectable-looking lady gasp, “undamn real” after seeing the magnificence of the Grand Canyon. More often we take our natural beauty for granted. We get used to it. Nice mountains, cool river, bright sun…yeah, yeah.
Grammy never took nature for granted. Her love of trees almost became a joke in the family. “Yes, Grammy, that IS a beautiful tree.” Winks all around.
Grammy not only loved the beauty of nature, but also poetry about nature. The English romantic poets were her favorites especially Percy Bysshe Shelley who seemed to have had a mystical connection with it all.
While Grammy was recuperating in bed one day, I read several pages of Shelley. A few sentences like these from The Cloud make her nod approvingly.
“I bring fresh showers for the thirsting flowers,
From the seas and the streams;
I bear light shade for the leaves when laid
In their noon-day dreams.”
Some of the more lengthy, sophisticated poetry is difficult for me to grasp, but I can take it in better when I’m with Gram.
“What do you think of this one, Grammy?” I ask after reading what seemed like a hundred pages of Mont Blanc.
“Oh, I love it.” Grammy whispers.
Amazing, a little spine-tingling. I can only imagine what she’s feeling.
“Gram, can you recite your favorite poem?”
“Not now, I don’t think so,” she replies until my husband, her son, John, begins the first line.
“I think that I shall never see…” John says.
Gram picks it up, “A poem as lovely as a tree.”
With slightly more gusto and a faraway-mystical look Gram continues with her own rendition of Joyce Kilmer’s poem, “A tree that may in summer wear, a nest of robins in her hair. A tree that looks at God all day and lifts her leafy arms to pray.”
I’m busy trying to capture with my phone video what feels like a sacred moment. I’m observing someone totally enraptured.
Gram may forget many things, but the neurons for that poem have fired together so many times, they are permanently wired. Grammy’s love for nature and the images brought to her by the poetry remain vivid despite the fact that she’s over a hundred years old, lying in bed with oxygen tubes in both nostrils, and doubly frail from fighting off a nasty illness.
As I look at Grammy, I see her joy. She’s lost many of her faculties, friends, and family, but this bliss around nature cannot be taken away.
I’m reminded of a quotation from the famous psychologist, Abraham Maslow. "The most fortunate are those who have a wonderful capacity to appreciate again and again, freshly and naively, the basic goods of life, with awe, pleasure, wonder, and even ecstasy."
Dr. Martin Seligman and Dr. Christopher Peterson, who surveyed thousands of people and studied fifty-four cultures around the world throughout history, have suggested that a person’s ability to appreciate beauty and excellence is one of the top strengths that allows one to live a truly good life.
If we would like to enhance our ability to appreciate nature and experience pleasure, wonder, perhaps even a bit of ecstasy, it helps to hang around with people who openly express their appreciation of beauty. Second, we could take a couple of breaks each day to look out the window; even better, go outside and feast on the sights, sounds, and feel of nature. Be present, mindful.
For my husband, John, this is one way he gets into his "love place." He feels grounded, centered, able to love everyone and everything.
Recently, psychologists at the Greater Good Science Center suggested that people memorize two lines of inspiring poetry to lift their spirits. We might try a poem by Shelley or American poet, Mary Oliver, and see how it affects us. I get a kick out of cowboy nature poetry. They poems are sentimental and gooey and seem to bubble forth from a warm spring within I heard someone once say.
I am betting that wherever we are there are plenty of opportunities to experience inspiring natural beauty. If we can just take a moment…to notice it.
How might we build appreciation for nature’s beauty and Journey to The Good Life?
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