I just finished Nina RIgg’s uncommonly beautiful and ultimately uplifting memoir of the last year of her life, The Bright Hour. Nina, a great-great-great-granddaughter of Ralph Waldo Emerson, weaves reflections on Emerson and Michel de Montaigne into this tale of family and cancer. Although living while dying might sound morbid, it isn’t. It’s a challenge we all face, ultimately, even if we’d rather ignore it. Nina dies the month after finishing her manuscript, leaving us with a note of sorrow and a great appreciation for life.
Nina had no interest in “bucket lists,” full of dramatic must-do-before-dying experiences. She preferred to spend her year immersed in her family, treasuring the commonplace, appreciating what she thought she’d miss most. She wrote:
“I want all of it–all the things to do with living–and I want them to keep feeling messy and confusing and even sometimes boring. The carpool line and the backpacks and light that fills the room in the building where I wait while the kids take piano lessons.”
Today, with COVID-19, “bucket-list” travel is not an option. We’re unlikely to jet to Paris, climb on Macchu Picchu, or walk the Great Wall of China.
Yet we can admire, like Nina, the messy and ordinary in our lives, finding within it magic, knowing how much we would miss it if our lives were to change.
I started a list: small, ordinary, no-cost things I adore in my life today. This was easy to make.
Small, ordinary (no-cost) things that I love and would miss
- Dappled sunlight on a path.
- Face-coating licks from bro-dogs Winston and Royce.
- A bear hug from my husband, Steve.
- A blueberry, fresh-picked from our patch.
- The moon before dawn.
- Purple gladiolas in bloom.
- A simple piece of Chopin I can play on the piano.
- The two Doug firs standing sentinel next door.
This list goes on and on.
But the more important list, perhaps, is the second I made:
Small, ordinary (no-cost) things that I don’t love but would also miss
- Thatching ants, colossal composters, whose two-foot-high home (for a million ants?) covers a much-used walkway
- The birds who have abandoned our protocol of share-zies at the raspberry bush and have decided “winner take all.”
- A lawn full of false-dandelions, with bright yellow flowers and puffballs about to send their seeds everywhere into the garden.
- Royce’s mistake as he steals my best pear off the counter then distributes its juicy remains on my favorite carpet.
- The electric hammer my neighbor is using to build his barn.
- My husband’s wheezie snore at night.
If I knew my life was limited, which of course it is, I would not take any of these for granted. The moment I thought I might lose them, I’d regret them all.
For these lists, I focused on small parts of life in front of me. In these days of global crisis, what’s right in front of me brings me the most comfort.
Appreciating the small in a time of COVID-19
With COVID, I move in a reduced orbit. Yet, my world is plenty big when I enlarge its scope by noticing the magic around me.
Two questions for you
You don’t have to meditate on dying, even though this is a powerful spiritual practice. Instead, try these two questions:
- What are the small, ordinary things that you love?
- What are the small, ordinary things that you don’t love but might dearly miss should your life be at risk?
Then, bask in appreciation for what is messy, common, and wonderful around you.