I spend much of my contemplation time meditating on the three wise words of my spiritual advisor and mentor, the late John Bowen Coburn: “You never know.”
I was leaving the cottage Sunday at noon to go to the news office to pick up the New York Times and head across the street to a Mexican restaurant, Milagro’s. (Not only is the food excellent, but it is a meeting place for friends.) Tom was walking by my house, returning from his home to the news office from his break. When he saw me leave the cottage, Tom waited in front of the gate. We walked down Water Street together. With deadpan seriousness Tom told me he was worried about me. I couldn’t possibly know why. Tom told me that a bad storm was expected to begin Monday, late in the day and evening, with high wind gusts and become a blizzard by Tuesday, with total snow accumulation of 18 to 24 inches. Other than a mild weather report on the classical music station saying snow is expected Monday, I was oblivious. Tom, in years past, teased Peter and me for going to a hotel when a storm was predicted.
How grateful I am for Tom’s sage advice. He suggested I leave Monday afternoon and stay in a hotel three nights because even though the sun was shining Wednesday, it would take time for the crew to get rid of the snow in our little village. I thanked Tom and called the Mystic Marriott & Spa and booked a room.
In the comfort of the hotel, in the same corner room Peter and I stayed in last March during a similar big storm, from two picture windows I could watch the storm. Brooke and Alexandra were so relieved I was at the hotel. The predictions for New York City were dire. A crippling, historic blizzard was expected. Tuesday, the blizzard was in full force. As you’ve likely read, the Mayer of New York City predicted this could be the “Big One,” the biggest ever in the northeast.
Mother Nature is in charge. Even with all the technology, it is hard to be accurate about predicting the weather. As it turned out, the wind shifted from the estimates and went 75 miles to the east. As a result, New England got slammed.
Peter and I have weathered storms; in 1978, 1991, 1993, 1996, 2006, 2010 and 2013 and 2014, but never in my lifetime have I experienced this much snow and, because the snow was light, fluffy and powdery, the wind caused giant snow drifts. The howling winds created whiteout conditions that shut down cities. The island of Nantucket had winds of 75 miles per hour and lost power. Much of the New England states were in states of emergency. Monday night at 9 PM, there was a statewide travel ban. There was little doubt with the atmospheric scientists that the Northeast would get hit with this wild storm. I’m one to believe in caution. Peter taught me to be adverse to risk. I love clichés because they ring true: “Better be safe than sorry.”
New York City, the city that never sleeps, became a ghost town. Park Avenue, where Peter and I lived, was completely deserted. I saw a picture on the weather channel of this boulevard blanketed with snow. Not even a soul in sight.
Tuesday, because of the travel ban, there were no New York Times deliveries. Oh dear. Because I don’t use the internet, and rarely watch the news unless my daughter AB is on air, I enjoy staying informed and connected with newspapers. Eventually, “The Day” was delivered. I read that Stonington had the National Guard come to assist with the removal of snow. Apparently we were dumped with 24” to 30” inches of snow. No one lost power.
In the past, I didn’t hesitate to leave Stonington Village when storms were predicted. Now that I’m alone and believe, whether or not I’m stoic, I’m sure I could have convinced myself to tough it out and stay put. But I’m glad I’m receptive to having people who care about me, guide me. I’m vulnerable, as we all are, because we never do know.
Recently, I was interviewed for a newsletter for the John’s Hopkins Hospital where I’m giving two talks – Friday, April 17th and Saturday, April 18th – in Washington, DC. My talk is entitled “Choosing Happiness at Every Stage of Life.” In the aftermath of the blizzard, sun shining, brilliant white light, I’m reflecting on the beauty of the quietude, the sense of shared humanity, and the blessings of my forced winter vacation. The mere fact of talking about happiness has the power to make us more satisfied and content with our lives. I firmly believe happiness is our wisest choice.
After the snow tapered off, I ventured outside to enjoy the magical snow. It is so light under foot; it feels as though I’m walking on cotton clouds. Wednesday evening, the magnificent crimson sunset setting over the frozen, snow-covered reservoir, leaves me in awe. I want to carry this sense of wonder into February and beyond. More snow is predicted. I’m open, receptive, and glad to greet each new sacred day as it comes, and adapt, accept, and embrace reality.
Before Peter died, we were listening to a series of 36 lectures about the meaning of life, from an historic, global perspective. The great civic leader John Gardner gave a talk to the Stanford Alumni Association six decades after he graduated: Aren’t we all yearning for meaning and purpose in our brief earthly journey? Isn’t meaning a fundamentally spiritual need? Gardner’s practical wisdom resonates with me: “The things you learn in maturity aren’t simple things, such as requiring information and skills. You learn not to engage in self-destructive behavior. You learn not to burn up energy in anxiety. You discover how to manage your tensions. You learn that self-pity and resentment are among the most toxic of drugs… Meaning is something you build into your life. You build it out of your own past, out of your affections and loyalties, out of the experience of humankind as it is passed on to you … You are the only one who can put them together into that unique pattern that will be your life.”
The main reason personal happiness is so important is because the very things that make us the happiest is our ability and commitment to find ways to serve others. We can’t give what we don’t have. When we replenish ourselves, we’re free to serve others with a joyful, open heart. When we try, duty bound, to give to others when we have negative emotional states, we will feel resentment. Whenever we do something out of love, the benefits will be profoundly felt.
We live our lives in chapters. As I embrace this new stage in my life, I’m grateful to all my supportive friends, who I’m enjoying this new chapter with, who encourage me to celebrate Peter as I find pleasure in my work and activities. I am living in the present. The last thing in the world I want to do is “get over Peter,” to move on. I am enjoying my writing. I’m glad to say Peter is right with me in spirit. He is celebrating me as I continue to cherish and celebrate him.
Happy Valentine’s Day. Make the entire month one of love, compassion and empathy.