January 2022

I love sharing my love of roses with my friends.

Dear Friends,

I love you!

Happy, Happy New Year!

I embrace 2022 with outstretched arms and a joyful, open heart. There are countless reasons I am so wildly enthusiastic about a fresh, new beginning; first and foremost is my gratitude that I’m alive! I am breathing, I have my ch’i back, my vital energy; I have color in my cheeks. “To live is so startling, it leaves but little room for other occupations,” exclaimed the belle of Amherst, Emily Dickinson.

For many of you, my friends, we have been on a journey together since my first book was published in 1974 (the same year Peter and I married). Happily, through word of mouth—or meaningful coincidences—there are new friends who are joining in to concentrate on the importance of happiness as a way of being.

I’m writing this January 2022 newsletter several weeks before the ball drops at Times Square on New Year’s Eve, ushering in the new year. Elissa, her husband Colin and Jonathan are driving to Michigan to celebrate the holidays, requiring my posting this exciting newsletter turning the page, moving forward into 2022, before I’ve finished living 2021! As my daughter Alexandra always says, “We don’t know what we don’t know.” Things are the way they are, and they are not the way things are not.

What a Christmas gift to spend time with Jonathan!

I’m thanking you in advance for being understanding. There may be catastrophic events that happen between now and when you read this. I am not clairvoyant; I vividly remember having to post a newsletter early because Sharon, my literary assistant at the time, was going to Cape Cod to visit her father after her mother died, and the tragedy of Katrina happened a few days later. Because my newsletter didn’t mention the hurricane, many readers wrote to me hurt and angry that I had ignored the tragedy.

Empathy and compassion mean we “suffer with” others, people who are discouraged, who lose their faith and hope. Pain is an inevitable condition of being alive; I don’t know of one human soul who hasn’t experienced physical, mental and spiritual pain in the course of their life cycle. Suffering, however, is a choice. If we accept reality, we can mobilize all our resources to do whatever is in our power to make the best of each and every situation we face.

Peter’s cardinal is now in the kitchen for the winter, in front of Peter’s favorite painting.

The devastating tornado that hit so powerfully in Mayfield, Kentucky, had been predicted to arrive precisely when it did. However, who among us could have envisioned such force and random loss of lives and whole communities? When we try to imagine ourselves in the survivors’ place, we can’t possibly understand this pain. Learning about the outpouring of generosity from all over the world is so uplifting and beautiful, and a cause for celebration. We can’t control what happened; we can be grateful for the fortitude and courage of all who helped those who were caught in harm’s way and send our love to those who lost family and friends.

Let us remind ourselves that we are never alone. There are good-hearted, kind, loving people who always instinctively do the generous thing. This natural inclination to do good is built into our DNA, is what unites us as members of humanity’s family. Let’s focus on what we can do individually, and collectively, to help to the best of our ability. Each of us is well aware of the rainbow of serious problems in our present worldview. All we can do is our best. When we take personal responsibility for our own behavior, we will be doing our best for everyone, not just our own needs and desires.

A few of my favorite things.

Blessedly, when we think of others and realize how fortunate we are, we become happier, more connected, more giving, more thoughtful. Our time, energy and resources can be spent more productively because of our compassion, empathy and loyalty to our diverse human family when we genuinely care for the well-being and happiness of others. Whenever we love life, we accept and enhance all situations as opportunities to become a little wiser, a bit more angelic. It feels good to be in a position to be of help. Look for the good; we always find it.

Pause. Take a deep breath in through your nose. Fill your lungs with fresh air. Exhale slowly through your mouth. Whenever we open our eyes to see the invisible beauty of our mind’s eye, we come to realize that what we’ve been looking for is no longer hidden but is in plain sight. How we see what surrounds us is a mirror of what we feel in our heart and soul.

We are all a work in progress. We evolve when we gain knowledge and perspective. What we may think we want and need may be far from what will truly bring us genuine, lasting happiness. We may have perspective in many areas of life but have blind spots in certain other areas. Whenever we are still enough to touch our deepest feelings, we are given the essential guidance from the universe. Seek and we will eventually find what we really need and most love. We practice happiness with our thinking and our actions. Being in touch with our soul’s truth and light requires us to always focus on love as our pure guidance.

Peter and I are eternally in Provence when I look at our Roger Mühl painting.

Recently, while listening to Nat King Cole’s Christmas Favorites, I was enjoying a soothing cup of Raspberry Zinger Celestial Seasonings tea. I was enchanted to read a Swedish proverb— “Those who wish to sing always find a song”—typed on the back of the paper used to dunk the teabag in boiling water. I also buy hibiscus Traditional Medicinals tea at an herbal shop that never fails to lift me up when I read one of their inspiring quotes. Sitting calmly, waiting for our tea to steep, is an ideal time and place to reflect on our boundless gratitude for nature’s wondrous bounties. Whenever we expose ourselves to wisdom, we raise our consciousness. Ahh, “take ten and see.”

This lovely tea ceremony prompted me to thumb through the book I wrote in 1994, Tea Celebrations: The Way to Serenity. Reflecting on all the thinkers I had admired at the time, I reread all their quotations printed in the margins. This is where I was then, nearly 28 years ago. While I still believe in their messages, I have outgrown my admiration for some of the messengers I once looked up to with reverence. I now choose to celebrate noble characters whose actions are in harmony with their words. We can appreciate our evolving mind’s ability to become more of a thinker. Whenever I am genuine in what I write, I’m grateful I see my own growth and evolution in the authors I now quote to support my philosophy. I’ve been fooled in the past. I was in my early 50s, the age of my daughters, when that book was published. More than ever, I want to look up to the excellence of a person’s character, not merely the eloquence of their prose. I choose the share the values with minds I recommend to my friends.

I love my colorful winter garden!

Good News!

As I mentioned last month, I had an operation on my carotid artery on the last day of November. The greatest gift my brilliant, caring surgeon gave me is his 21 years’ experience performing this kind of surgery. The timing was symbolically perfect. Because Dr. Danes was able to operate on me the morning of November 30, I was able to begin the month of December in recovery. (Originally he had told me it would be scheduled for the beginning of December.) My wish to come home from the hospital and walk up the stairs to my private sanctuary came true. I lived upstairs for the first week until having my post-operation visit to see my surgeon and my heart doctor. They both told me I can move about and do whatever I felt up to without overdoing.

That private world of retreat that first week was sacred. I slept a great deal, gazing at the harbor’s ever-changing view. We’ve had extraordinary sunsets that I savored from the perch of my high bed. Friends sent me flowers and plants that feasted my eyes and made me enormously happy. In that mostly solitary time, I realized I had dramatically changed. There was a calm about me that I hadn’t experienced since the afternoon Peter died, over seven years ago. My heart and mind were in harmony as humility enveloped my soul.

The amaryllis and lily blossoms fill my living room with joy.

The sheer fact that I’m alive was all I needed to experience. There I was, recovering from a most important, necessary operation that allowed blood to flow freely to my brain and heart. The operation was essential to my ability to thrive on all cylinders and was a success. While not able to literally kick up my heels, I’m in high spirits. I’m in the active stage of healing, getting stronger every day. This is cause for celebration. I’m more alive than I’ve ever been.

I’m now acutely aware how precarious my heath was before this surgery. While I think I was awake before my final diagnosis, I’m now wide awake!

Last week when I went to my RA doctor, I learned that all my bloodwork is going in the right direction. Dr. Chaudray has to touch my hands and knee to analyze the inflammation and pain level. “I know it’s hard for you to write now, Alexandra. Are you still writing about happiness?” I told him I am because I’m such a believer in its ramifications. As he was touching my writing hand, Dr. Chaudray told me happiness depends on gratitude. I sat up straight. “That is the key.”

Enjoying the beautiful winter window boxes outside the cottage.

He has a patient who complained that her RA medication was $700 a year. In the same breath, she complained about her acute, chronic pain. He ended up paying for her medication in order for her to receive the pain relief she was seeking. Rather than feeling grateful, thanking my doctor, she continued to complain. The examination rooms were all full, as was every chair in the reception area. In a brief flash of time, his story reminded me to be grateful for all the caregivers that spend their lives trying to heal us.

I feel deferentially respectful to all the dedicated doctors who have worked with me to try to regulate my situation, restoring me to health. I slid into my longevity with flying colors. I’m thankful to have lived all those years when I was flourishing, with no time out. I’m humble realizing how fortunate I am to be in excellent care. I trust their opinions because they are devoted. I feel their genuine need to see that I am safe.

Peter and I are still basking in each other's light.

Angels Are All Around

As I was savoring all the simple beauty in my immediate environment, I was living completely in the unfolding moments. An angel friend dropped by some oatmeal chocolate cookies and candied walnuts along with several DVD videos of her favorite Christmas classics. It’s a Wonderful Life was the one Cooper and I selected to watch together one night when she brought supper over from Noah’s, a restaurant a few blocks from the cottage. There we were, cozy in my bed, snuggling and watching an all-time classic. Having just seen the play before my surgery made this version more meaningful.

Frank Capra thought it was the greatest film he ever made. “It’s a Wonderful Life sums up my philosophy of filmmaking,” he wrote. “First, to exalt the worth of the individual. Second, to champion man—plead his cases, protest any degradation of his dignity, spirit, or divinity. And third, to dramatize the viability of the individual—as in the theme of the film itself. … There is a radiance and glory in the darkness, could we but see, and to see we only have to look. I beseech you to look.”

This is the first view I have when I walk into the cottage.

My angel Cheryl brought me her favorite movie; George Bailey’s angel Clarence got his wings; and my friend Cherié sent me a beautiful letter about her favorite movie, Jimmy Stewart’s favorite of the more than 70 films he made.

I’m paying attention to all the coincidences, the divine timing of so many little events that simply happen just as they should. I think of Peter’s infectious grin, his double thumbs-up and his usual response to any pleasant suggestion: “I’m in favor.”

Now that I have full range of the cottage’s beauty, I’m often surprised by joy when I turn a corner and feel each space’s significance. My writing room is all white, with windows and windowpane mirrors, a white writing table, a stand-up desk, and space to breathe. The space is always empty. “Empty and be full.” I come into this room to bring light into my essence. Rumi’s sentiments echo mine: “If light is in your heart, you will find your way home.”

Another angel, Mark, sent to his book-loving friends two poems with his endearing Christmas card and note. Both seem to go together, in the order I received them. The last line in “The Patience of Ordinary Things”—“And what is more generous than a window?”—gave me soul-bumps. After my surgery, I remember my bed being wheeled into an intensive care room, where I faced a wall with a white chalkboard. Because of the pain in my neck, I couldn’t move to gaze out the window. An angel nurse appeared, and at my gentle request, she moved the bed so it faced the window’s view of sky and trees.

Elissa took this photo of the full moon over a Christmas tree in Westerly.

I cried tears of joy when I read Mary Oliver’s line, “It could be anything, but very likely you notice it in the instant when love begins,” because love is what life is, in all the fullness of being alive. I’m glad I wrote Living in Love and will continue to be in love. Love, when fully appreciated, is what we are seeking. Because joy, peace, hope, faith and empathy are all woven into love’s boundless force for good.

Remember that the worst kind of earthly problem, according to angels, is to be discouraged; George Bailey wished he’d never been born. Clarence gave him his wish, and then George didn’t hesitate. To feel the sheer glee, the bliss when we unexpectedly feel joy, this is living in love. When we choose happiness, we choose love. Love begins anew when we cultivate empathy.

In closing, I want to begin this new year telling you a secret you can tell to one and all. Don’t worry, Peter knows and approves! I have a boyfriend. I’ve seen him in movies he made before I was born. I’m in love with Cary Grant! My favorite of all his roles is when he was an angel in The Bishop’s Wife. Cary was a perfect angel. The bishop’s part was offered to him and he turned it down. David Niven is perfect for the misguided man who got swept up in building a cathedral at the expense of selling his soul.

Let it be known: Cary Grant is my boyfriend.

My angel friend Norma always lets me know when I have to drop everything and see my boyfriend on Turner Classics. Cheryl’s “loaner” Christmas movie was such a treat for bringing him to bed with me, propped up on the breakfast tray. What’s there not to love?

Happy, Happy New Year! Alexandra has postponed coming on January 3rd with my grandchildren because of Omicron. How blessed I am that she was able to come regularly this past year and be here with Brooke for my surgery.

Joy is ours. I feel joy, and I am happy I feel so loved by you. Thank you for reaching out to me so generously. You are my windows to life’s majestic views into what’s really important to me, what I love and why I love so abundantly. You are all my angels!

Love & Live Happy,

The blue juniper berries and evergreen branches look lovely against the Summer Blue shutters!

The Patience of Ordinary Things

It is a kind of love, is it not?
How the cup holds the tea,
How the chair stands sturdy and foursquare,
How the floor receives the bottoms of shoes
Or toes. How soles of feet know
Where they’re supposed to be.
I’ve been thinking about the patience
Of ordinary things, how clothes
Wait respectfully in closets
And soap dries quietly in the dish,
And towels drink the wet
From the skin of the back.
And the lovely repetition of stairs.
And what is more generous than a window?

—Pat Schneider

Don't Hesitate

If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy,
don’t hesitate. Give in to it. There are plenty
of lives and whole towns destroyed or about
to be. We are not wise, and not very often
kind. And much can never be redeemed.
Still, life has some possibility left. Perhaps this
is its way of fighting back, that sometimes
something happens better than all the riches
or power in the world. It could be anything,
but very likely you notice it in the instant
when love begins. Anyway, that’s often the case.
Anyway, whatever it is, don’t be afraid
of its plenty. Joy is not made to be a crumb.

—Mary Oliver