April 2020

Few will have the greatness to bend history itself. But each of us can work to change a small portion of events. And in the total of all of those acts will be written the history of this generation.

—Robert Kennedy

Dear Friends,

I love you. Because we have all been thrown into this pandemic, I am writing to you from the innermost recesses of my heart. I want to be worthy of your trust, as your sincere friend.

On March 12, an intimate few of us were at the Inn at Stonington when we awoke to a new reality. At the seminar that afternoon, we discussed the vital importance of staying centered and remaining grounded, no matter how challenging life becomes.

Happiness is our wisest choice. We are at our level best, with all our physical and emotional vitality, when we commit ourselves to not merely cope but to thrive.

Winston Churchill taught us, when he saved lives by his leadership in World War II, that it is no use saying that we are doing our best; rather, “You have got to succeed in doing what is necessary.”

On the day before his death, John F. Kennedy used the metaphor of a child’s self-challenge. He spoke of Frank O’Connor, the Irish writer, who wrote about his boyhood. He and his friends, when they were out exploring and came to an orchard wall that seemed to high to climb, would toss their hats over the wall so they had no choice but to follow. Kennedy told the O’Connor tale in lyrical language, as a prelude to declaring, “This nation has tossed its cap over the wall of space, and we have no choice but to follow it.”

Me during a Happiness Retreat, speaking from my heart. First we choose happiness, then we commit to it, then we practice, practice, practice.

President Kennedy was in San Antonio when he gave his speech, having no idea of the tragedy facing him in Dallas the next day. The truth is, we never know what tomorrow will bring. All we hold in the palm of our hand is this breath, this moment, in the heart of this evolving coronavirus emergency. Together, we can all throw our hats over the wall. We too have no choice but to awaken, to learn the facts and to do what is necessary.

Because of our interconnectedness, our interdependence, and our being “fused” (to use Thomas L. Friedman’s apt word) around the globe, presently in 151 countries and counting, we are at home in some form of “social distancing.” Because of different countries’ priorities, certain rules are set in place to isolate, depending on exposure and underlying health conditions. This is a scary time, but courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear—not absence of fear, as Mark Twain understood.

My daughters are the ones who informed me that no one is to step foot in the cottage because my lung condition and maturity! How grateful I am, looking back on their decision, that I feel safe and am doing everything in my power to maintain my health and well being.

Rarely do my daughters intervene in my affairs. However, when they give me advice, I listen. I know they are acting out of love and compassion and have my best interests in mind.

I have a collection of one-word postcards I used as flash cards when Alexandra and Brooke were learning how to read. Now is the word for now. Do it NOW!

Now Is the Time

Now is the time to tap into our signature strengths and put into practice our core beliefs. Whenever we do the right thing at the right time for the right reason, we will be guided by our higher power. In order to truly be the person we strive to become, we must rely on our principles and let our moral compass inform our choices.

We all can do whatever measures are necessary to save ourselves and others from being exposed to this highly contagious, deadly virus.

My mentor Mrs. Archibald Manning Brown, who was born in 1890, taught this mantra to her design staff: “When you create beauty for yourself, and you create beauty for others, you will live along, healthy, happy life.” True to her word, Mrs. Brown lived an exemplary, beautiful life; she died five days shy of her 101st birthday. Mrs. Brown asked me to be sure there were only white flowers at her funeral.

In this deeply serious health tragedy, our normal lives have been turned upside down and inside out. Mrs. Brown gave us a gem of timeless, wise advice: “When one thing changes, rethink everything.” While this great lady was the Grande Dame of American interior design, she was far more than a refined innovator and visionary designer. She also knew how to live well in our private sanctuary. Our time can be paradise on earth.

At this recent retreat, Lin from Michigan asked me what was the greatest singular thing Mrs. Brown taught me. I remember pausing. Clearly, of all the wisdom she passed on to me, her eager protégé, the most important was to always be a lady. She was refined, dignified, elegant and cultural; her strength of character and magnetism are a continuing inspiration to me.

We are all baring our souls. We feel raw emotions; there is emotional pain that is felt in different parts of our bodies. What is each of us doing to hold ourselves together as we move forward? How are we dealing with the hurt or loss? How can we make the best of a seriously bad pandemic?

I'm looking forward to our roses in front of the cottage picket fence and having the time to smell them, one blossom at a time.

My New Reality

Many of my friends ask me how I am spending my days. I am glad to report that I am continuing to love life; however, this new reality has definitely deepened my appreciation for the privilege of my free will. I am taking nothing for granted. I am more acutely aware of my feelings than before I was in lockdown. I am actually beefing up my message of “Living a Beautiful Life” by ritualizing my ordinary daily activities.

After Peter was rushed in an ambulance to a local hospital four different times, after an initial fall down the stairs, I felt helpless. Doctors were stumped. Life and death were clearly in plain view. I called my good friend Carl, my literary agent, and asked him for some advice. Practical to the core, he suggested I read my books! His advice was spot-on. By taking care of my own needs, I was in a healthier position to care for Peter’s gradual recovery.

These past days at home, alone, I have spent my time listening to the birds, singing and listening to favorite music, reading philosophy. My time spent learning from the great thinkers stimulates me to boundless enthusiasm. What has become the most inspiring to me now, besides the great men and woman who are the first responders in this health crisis, is the positive, life-affirming spirit of people who have become my mentors and teachers over the entire course of my reading life.

In time for last January’s Happiness Retreat, the publisher reprinted Grace Notes. For all of you who have this book on a library shelf, I suggest you open it up today. I’m finding solace in this daily meditation, as I am in The Book of Days, a journal that was published a few years after Grace Notes. Just as churches have certain hymns for significant times of the year, we can use these books as reference points. Now is the time we can call upon the greatest heroes throughout history to inspire our higher angels. Let these authors you most admire guide you with their knowledge and the timeless wisdom to help you keep up your morale.

Smell my gardenia! It's produced more than 20 blossoms so far.

Turn Loss Into Gain

I want to share some of the strategies and rituals I’m enjoying in this trying time. We’re able to turn loss into gain when we appreciate all the blessings we have. My gratitude for my family and friends, my community and my compassion for people in all corners of the world bring me inner peace. We can’t always control what happens to us, but we can always control our attitude. I’m loving the peace and quiet as never before.

I’m doing things at home with greater awareness and reverence. I’m moving in slow motion because I have nothing on earth to rush about. When I stay present and awake, I’m aware of my inhale, my exhale. This exercise alone is soothing. The only time I become frustrated is when I am out of sync with this present, now moment.

The more present-focused we are, fully conscious of what we’re thinking and how we are moving, the more we’re able to elevate the ordinary things we all do and make them sacred. Nothing I am doing now is dramatically different from the rituals, ceremonies and celebrations I wrote about in 1986 in Living a Beautiful Life. I am doing the same things I loved to do then, now, because I value the beauty, inner peace and pleasure I derive from creating meaningful moments.

My book Gift of a Letter is more essential now than ever. When so many things that are considered nonessential are closed, so far, we still have our mail picked up and delivered. I ended Gift of a Letter with a P.S.—Please write soon! When Kim, our mailman, comes to the door and slides the mail through the brass letter slot, I realize how comforting and reassuring it is to receive letters from “heart-mates.”

As rare as this sounds, I received a handwritten thank-you note this week from Kim because I wrote him a note of thanks for his service. I am writing letters to friends near and far, sending light and love.

I am ironing something every day. I love to iron, and when I iron something pretty, I’m able to appreciate the most intricate details of a hand-sewn, scalloped pillow sham or the colorful flower pattern on a tablecloth for the garden.

I’m ringing bells! A local newspaper wrote about a bell-ringing ceremony for solidarity and unity to take place, in place, in our doorways the Sunday before last at 8 p.m. First, we heard eight gongs from a nearby church. Looking up at one bright star against a cold black sky, in unison, we all rang our bells, hearing the reverberations throughout Water Street and beyond. Bells give me “soul-bumps.”

Last fall, a friend went to an estate sale and purchased three authentic sleigh bells. On Cooper’s birthday, they arrived in a gift bag. These old bells are tied on the front doorknob with a signature favorite blue and white grosgrain ribbon.

Peter collected bells and has given me several for my writing desks. I always have a bell wherever I choose to write. I tend to ring a small bell at random to alert me to sit erect; inhale deeply; smell a gardenia, jasmine or lily; and meditate using this present-moment awareness to let compassion envelop my entire being. In one split second, living kindness guards me and guides my soul. I feel the presence of love made visible in my open, receptive heart. Still, centered and grounded, I light a fresh votive candle on my bluebird of happiness carousel candleholder, a gift from Anu and Roger. My out-breath reinforces my love of life as I continue to “participate with joy in the sorrows of the world.”

I now have a large new gardenia plant 20 inches from my nose that is proudly displaying 23 gloriously pretty blossoms. Gardenias are so sensuously fragrant, sentimental and romantic. I talk to my plant and thank it for being so exuberantly alive, healthy and comforting. We had a gardenia plant in full bloom next to Peter when he took his last breath. The fragile white blossoms are communicating to me in a language I understand; for me, I feel Peter’s presence. The more I cultivate my own garden, the more natural beauty I enjoy, the more whole I feel.

Watering, misting and pruning my indoor plants, moving them from place to place, depending on the light and where I choose to enjoy them, brings me great pleasure. Nature is my constant companion. Soon I will bring many of my indoor plants out into the garden as temperatures warm and I’ll be able to have lunch and coffee or tea breaks on a bench looking out at the harbor.

On sunny days I bring a tray to a table to have lunch. On rainy days I lunch with my gardenia plant, listening to our resident cardinal from an open window.

I take a walk to a secluded rocky beach next to a nature preserve one block south of the cottage. Smelling the sea as I hear the waves rhythmically lapping onto the rocks, watching the splashing foam and observing the seagulls is refreshing to my soul. In solitude I’m more receptive to the majesty and wisdom we learn from nature’s beauty. On a clear day we can see for miles.

Cooper took this photo of me from a safe distance outside the cottage.

Recently I found a delicate, perfectly shaped scallop shell with a hole in the center. Using my ever-present Wite-Out—my magic touch-up for nicked paint and mistakes—I painted it and put a blue silk cord through the hole, making a necklace for my granddaughter Cooper, who is an avid shell and pebble collector.

On that note, please ooh and ahh over Cooper’s photograph of me that she took from the garden through a window. Elissa, my new brilliant literary assistant, asked me to have a picture taken in real time, at the kitchen desk, writing. I moved to my downstairs desk areas in order to be able to see Cooper come and go while not actually being together.

Good Changes

Always look for the good! Welcome to my newly designed, modernized, up-to-date website. Since the beginning, my assistant Sharon took over from my son-in-law Peter, who dragged me kicking and screaming into the realization that I needed a website in able to communicate with my digital readers who use technology.

I’m grateful to Sharon, who put my handwritten manuscripts in type for years and years, and has been the one who brought my “Dear Friends” newsletters to you every month.

If your heart moves you to drop Sharon a line of thanks, I will pass them on to her. You can do this electronically or with a stamp on a postcard addressed to me.

Also, please welcome Elissa! To let me continue to live my life passionately, to allow me to continue to write everything with a favorite fountain pen on pastel paper, loving the process, Elissa is here for you and for me. She is high-tech savvy. Tell her what you want to see in the months ahead. She and I are in constant communication through the phone and her deliveries and pickups from her home in Westerly.

A lovely flower photo sent to me from one of my readers, Trudie, from Canada.

Keep your letters to me flowing. Each one is a new flower blossoming in my garden. I am spending my days moving about, reading, researching, writing, and thinking about you with the knowledge that we are truly “sincere friends,” as Abraham Lincoln understood.

As I am “de-thugging” years and years of boxes, folders and stacks of chaotic stuff, I am unearthing treasures. I’m taking my time, breathing in the opportunity to discover some fresh insight I can write about in my new book, find an address I needed to reach out to someone I love, and be nostalgic about the millions of gloriously happy memories that flood into my heart.

There is so much more I want to write to you now, but I’m going to save my thoughts for my next newsletter. Please use this April at home to discover more about what and who you love and enjoy this knowing. Be sure you have some good photographs of you when you were your most darling, gorgeous, handsome; this is who you are.

I love you! Let this be “my letter to the world” I love!

Love and Live Happy,

“Write it in your heart that every day is the best day in the year. No man has learned anything rightly, until he knows that every day is Doomsday. . . . We owe to genius always the same debt, of lifting the curtain from the common, and showing us that divinities are sitting disguised . . . . In daily life, what distinguishes the master is the using those materials he has, instead of looking about for what are more renowned, or what others have used well. . . . In stripping time of its illusions, in seeking to find what is the heart of the day, we come to the quality of the moment. . . .  It is the depth at which we live, and not at all the surface extension, that imports.
Then it flows from character, that sublime health which values one moment as another, and makes us great in all conditions, and is the only definition we have of freedom and power.”

—Ralph Waldo Emerson
Quoted as the epigraph of Grace Notes

Life is an opportunity, benefit from it.
Life is a beauty, admire it.
Life is bliss, taste it.
Life is a dream, realize it.
Life is a challenge, meet it.
Life s a duty, complete it.
Life is a game, play it.
Life is costly, care for it.
Life is wealth, keep it.
Life is love, enjoy it.
Life is mystery, know it.
Life is a promise, fulfill it.
Life is sorrow, overcome it.
Life is a song, sing it.
Life is a struggle, accept it.
Life is a tragedy, confront it.
Life is an adventure, dare it.
Life is luck, make it.
Life is too precious, do not destroy it.
Life is life, fight for it!

—Mother Theresa


What is success?
To laugh often and much;
To win the respect of the intelligent people and the affection of children;
To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends;
To appreciate beauty;
To find the best in others;
To leave the world a bit better whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition;
To know that one life has breathed easier because you have lived;
This is to have succeeded.

—Ralph Waldo Emerson


Let not the defeatists tell us that it is too late. It will never be easier. Tomorrow will be later than today.

—Franklin Delano Roosevelt