March 2022

Photos by Elissa

I love this book so much that I want to share it with you. (See my recommendation in the "Book of the Month" section.)

Dear Friends,

I love you!

It took me longer than usual to begin this letter to you, because I have been consumed by the horror of the war in Ukraine. I love to write to you, but my heart for much of the past few weeks has been with the Ukrainian people and their unbreakable spirit. They didn’t want this war, but they fiercely want their freedom. War is against nature, and my heart breaks for the innocent lives lost.

In times of tragedy, it’s important to find inspiration in the strength of other people, and to do what we can to be stronger, more courageous, more giving. We can find ways to help as we practice doing the right thing in every opportunity we have. As we continue to live with purpose and meaning in our own life, we feel more compelled to do our work and help other people.

In the month of love, you reached out to me with great, wide-open hearts. Thank you for reminding me how strong our bond is now, and has been for so many exciting years. So much changes in our personal lives and in the world, but our continuity is our genuine love. The more openly we share our emotions with each other, the greater our understanding of our shared humanity.

Thank you for playing such a strengthening role in my life. When you tell me I have contributed meaning to yours, this adds to my sense of fulfillment and joy. As our friendship grows deeper, I feel we are contributing to the evolution of our individual inner qualities. When we strive to know our unique nature, we will develop the courage to believe in our soul’s calling. We will gain the necessary resources to honor our God-given gifts.

Together we are supporting our personal choices to express our contribution to the truth of love, light and beauty. Over the years, I have shared many of my passions, all the tiny but significant ways I’ve been able to sustain my enthusiasm and zest for life. Through the brightest halcyon years — days of endless engagement, meaningful work, raising Alexandra and Brooke, traveling — I always wrote. Some of my books were published. You may have read something in one that sparked your energy, that could have given you a shot in the arm, a pat on the back, a spiritual hug, motivating you to do something that you wanted to do to add to your happiness.

These napkins have been my favorite fabric pattern for 50 years.

I write every day I can breathe and still hold a pen. Writing for me clarifies my thinking and is a form of meditation. I had a beloved literary agent who read everything I wrote except letters to family and friends. Carl died eight and a half years ago. He was my confidant, my critic, my trusted friend, my adviser. We formed a professional relationship that was exemplary. I worked extremely hard in order to develop my ideas for him to evaluate. Carl knew what was best for me, as well as what would interest the publishers.

I’d left my book publishing in his capable hands beginning in the late sixties, when I began this journey. We had a good, long run. I was the first author he told about his fatal illness. I worked even harder, after his sad news, to develop future books in order to have the fragile blessing of his wise counsel while he was alive. I have written many drafts of books that were never published, and one of them was about my love for Aristotle. Carl told me I must publish three more successful books before we would work on the Aristotle book.  

I found this beautiful jar while going through my clutter. I will now use it for my olive oil!

I recently woke up, and once I saw the light of day, post-surgery, I faced reality. The truth is the prize. Since I last wrote you about my emptying the past in order to make way for the present, I have emptied 21 colorful manuscript boxes. Light blue, dark green, yellow, chartreuse and pink.

Before the computer age, authors submitted their manuscripts in boxes. Mine had handmade marbleized paper separating the chapters. The boxes were held together with colorful ribbons. Carl’s agency had sky blue boxes. Symbolizing, I wonder, first prize? Winner? Blue mind? Sky, water? Blue is now my favorite color, as you know.

One second from now is the future. Aristotle was interested in the future because he would spend the rest of his life there. I’m interested in living as mindfully as I’m capable. Now, today, I want to live abundantly, because I have no knowledge of when this earthly paradise, living alone in this dear old cottage, will no longer be appropriate. What I have now I’m savoring.

Roger Mühl painted this in Michigan. It now lives in the window behind my writing desk.

“You never know.” Socrates — our wise teacher of Plato, who went on to teach my intellectual mentor Aristotle — claimed, “I know nothing.” Do we ever know anything for certain except the reality of this very real, present moment? The more I’ve learned, the more humble I’ve become. Truth continues to evolve. Scientific discoveries transform health care. Socrates didn’t write. I do! Not everything I wrote were timeless gems, I assure you.

I’ve expressed to you in the past that I’ve grown to trust my instincts. When I learn more and change my mind, I’m not shy to express myself. What started as a tidying-up project and clutter cleaning morphed into something far more vital to my present flourishing. Now, as I’m reflecting on my first eight decades, with few exceptions, I’m finally ready to let go of my past writing. I’ve gradually come to realize that too much of my material investment in the past was bogging me down. As an intimate writer, everything I wrote was immediate. Wherever, whenever, I wrote. Pen in hand, I wrote what I felt and knew in real time.

Elissa and her dad Kevin moved this Pierre Lesieur painting into the hallway. Now it’s in its rightful place!

If every cell in our body is new after eight years, isn’t it appropriate for me to approach each fresh new day with a blank canvas? I embrace the opportunity to be untethered. I now feel lighter, brighter, more spontaneous, more stimulated. With no disrespect to Aristotle, all my research notes, essays and writing have been recycled. His books remain, and all his studies are in my mind, heart and soul.

When we are passionate about anyone or anything, our strong emotions have roots that cannot be dug up. They’re deeply etched in our soul. Everything I’ve studied and learned is inside me. I carry my past chapters and seasons with me now. Marie Kondo suggests we discard everything we don’t love. I happen to love the growth process of reading and writing. I loved all the handwritten red pencil edits on Carl’s green pen edits. I held onto my longhand pages — and all the drafts, copyediting, notes and letters.

We can’t look back. I have no regrets. I now see so many of my blind spots that required hindsight to comprehend. Carl knew I was not an Aristotelian scholar. I was merely a fan of his belief that happiness is an achievement; first we have to choose to be a good human being, and then happiness arrives like bluebirds in springtime. He believed we should try to achieve excellence in our thinking and actions. Because he believed that contemplation produces our greatest happiness, I feel his presence in my reflective, meditative moments of purest awareness. I no longer am on a quest to publish a book about Aristotle. I’m enjoying myself as an eager student in his all-male master classes.

My friend Charlotte, the owner of Thames River Greenery, took me to her nursery, where I fell in love with a new gardenia plant.

Cesar to the Rescue

When we had that last big Nor’easter with severely dangerous winds and snowdrifts (up to two feet!), Mother Nature dumped her load on the study roof. The storm created an ice dam, an act of God. Water seeks its own level. Directly over my head, around 5 o’clock, I felt cold water as it splashed on my hair and neck, my desk and the floor! Within minutes, there was water raining down. Eventually I needed six buckets, emptying them often in order to lift them. That evening, I took naps, setting three alarms for three hours in order to attempt to keep on top of the deluge.

The next day I was fortunate to get two contractors to chip away the snow and ice before the expected forecast of rain. However, in my clutter-clearing project, this room had become a catchall for all the other spaces I’d organized. Clearly, this space was off limits. A photograph of the space before the storm would have frightened you! Water damaged sentimental photographs, piles of letters, postcards, pads of paper with phone numbers, and notes. Water splashed everywhere, staining everything it touched. My daughter Alexandra had planned to come visit the day after the anticipated storm. As it turned out, she found the roads cleared and had an uneventful drive here in record time. The water leaked less and less after the sun came out. I emptied the room of everything except the furniture, draped in drop cloths.

Several years ago there was water damage on the same ceiling from a heavy storm. I’m reminded that we had a new roof built decades before, when the ceiling caved in over the same desk. I know now to put drop cloths over the furniture if the future weather sounds threatening. This vulnerable place in the cottage needed some surgery. Any home built by church carpenters in the 18th century has an Achilles’ heel that is tender. I love the cottage and respect its requirements. The water leak was a tangible cry for help.

Apparently I love asparagus!

The only excuse I have to tell you about this ice dam is to sing the praises of the great master painter Cesar. He immediately came to assess the damage with the same dedication as the family doctor who made house calls. He opened up the ceiling and gave me a good, healthy report. The ceiling could be restored. In a few months, roofers will do what they can outside. When the plaster ceiling is completely dry, the proper repairs will be made. The study will have a fresh coat of paint, and I’ll be able to reopen this workspace with a new vision of “elegance, order, beauty and joy.” Some words in specific order have gravitas; these words appear in this order in the subtitle of Living a Beautiful Life.

The relief I feel, knowing what a superior job Cesar will do, makes me exceedingly grateful for this example of loyal human continuity.

I am such a believer in putting my full trust in decent, honorable, hardworking professionals. Their dignity depends on their doing excellent work. I am confident that whatever time and effort it takes to complete the job, it will be done beautifully. I love this cottage dearly; it holds wondrously joyful memories and continues to exude great energy and spirit.

Last year Cesar “loved up” the house’s exterior. The fact that he is continuing to help me now, as I’m moving forward, is pure grace. Those of us who are lucky enough to have his help are indeed blessed. His clients appreciate his integrity, skills and noble character, and are rewarded by his personal pride in his work. While having the opportunity to enjoy his work, we are the recipients of a meaningful human connection. We are appreciative of his job well done. Cesar, my friend, you are worthy of great praise. Thank you.

On a family trip to see Roger Mühl, we watched this painting in progress!

Letters Mingle Souls

I was surprised by joy from your wonderful letters this month. I must have touched a nerve in you about my letting go of my past life’s work and nostalgia. I’m reminded of what the Stoic philosopher Seneca wrote in his book On the Shortness of Life: “Combining all times into one makes life long.” How brilliantly reassuring. I’ve lived, loved, lost, learned and yearned in my 80 years of discovery. Studying philosophy from the greatest thinkers throughout history has kept me in excellent company. The companionship I feel from great spiritual teachers is always present, encouraging my growth toward greater inner empowerment.

I’ve discovered in my leisure hours a spirit-energy that connects the ancients to the moderns with a palpable vitality. While we don’t always credit the source of our practical wisdom and common sense, we are all part of a club whose only membership requirement is kindness. His Holiness the Dalai Lama claims his religion is kindness. “There is no need for temples, no need for complicated philosophies. My brain and my heart are my temples; my philosophy is kindness.”

Philosophy is simply a love of wisdom. The only true good is our inner excellence, something we cultivate over our numerical years from birth to death. Seneca knew that “it takes an entire lifetime to learn how to live.” Wisdom is accumulated in the moment-to-moment commitment to belonging to our soul’s purpose. It is our responsibility to hold up the mirror to our inner self, in order to belong to our true, authentic nature. To know ourselves and be true to our nature is all the wisdom we’ll need to be rewarded by a long, happy life.

The sensitive author of The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, taught us, “If you want to understand the meaning of happiness, you must see it as a reward and not as a goal.” Our complete freedom is on an internal level, the stories teach us. Suffering is eliminated when we are able to live in harmony with nature. Humans are part of the vast cosmic order. When we take responsibility for our mind’s ability to think rationally, we will gain discipline, and we’ll have “a smooth flow of life,” believed Zeno of Citium, the founder of Stoicism. “The price of greatness is responsibility,” Sir Winston Churchill told the world during World War II.

Fear paralyzes us from doing our best in the moment. Control what is in your power, and knowing what is not. One of my favorite Stoics, a former slave, is Epictetus, who wisely taught, “Don’t wish things to happen as you desire, but wish them to happen as they do.” This was his formula for happiness, freedom and peace of mind.

Peter gave me the clock I'm holding when I opened Alexandra Stoddard Incorporated 45 years ago.

“I once was blind but now I see” —Amazing Grace

Frank Bruni, a contributing Opinion writer for The New York Times and a professor of public policy at Duke University, wrote a new book, The Beauty of Dusk. He suffered a rare stroke that had ravaged the optic nerve behind his right eye. I read an essay in the Sunday Review titled “Losing My Eyesight Helped Me See More Clearly.” Rather than asking the silly question, “Why me?” he translated that into “Why not me?” He wrote, “It was a guard against anger, an antidote to self-pity.” Bluntly he learned and now teaches that “to feel sorry for yourself is to ignore that everyone is vulnerable to intense pain and that almost everyone has worked or is working through some version of it.”

I recommend you read the entire essay. He tells how a celebrated economist who taught at Princeton University, Alan Krueger, killed himself in 2019. Krueger had come to the conclusion that one of the best ways to increase happiness was to spend time with friends. When he interviewed Krueger, Bruni was struck not only by the “joyfulness of his demeanor but also the ease of the encounter.” Krueger researched pain. Obviously, contrary to outward signs, he was in pain, unbeknownst to others.

Bruni began to sympathize more deeply with his friends and humanity as a whole, as “the struggles and emotions of people around me came into sharper focus.” In order to become a more empathetic, understanding friend, we begin with our emotions, getting in intimate touch with our feelings. Even if some of your friends have difficulty expressing their emotions, they increase our compassion through the universal language of love. You and I know the powerful relationships between two bodies and one soul. When we have friends of excellence, ancient or contemporary, we are never alone or lonely. They are beside us, lifting us toward the light.

This month was the 45th anniversary of the founding of Alexandra Stoddard Incorporated.

Cherié, thank you for reminding me that the “Buddha comes through nature, and reaches out to us all. In the world of Buddhism, light is a symbol of wisdom and compassion.” Our human nature is to love one another. We can love our family, our friends, our community and our freedom. We love the natural world’s order and beauty. When we choose to live in agreement with the harmony, beauty and excellence of nature, we will follow her, because God is nature.

My heart is in full bloom as I embrace the month of March. On March 9, I will celebrate the 45th anniversary of Alexandra Stoddard, Incorporated. Through my international company, the publication of my books and my traveling, I have friends all over the world. Thank you, Peg, for your kind letter. Yes, there is symbolism and meaning with the swan logo. To me, it meant I was spreading my wings. For you, the swan represents simplicity, grace and beauty. You kindly wrote that you feel this is a hallmark of my work ethic. I will etch your words in my heart as I celebrate. Cheers, Peg, as we “behold the sunlight” and move onward and upward to spring!

On the Ides of March, the 15th, I will celebrate Peter’s 100th birthday! I’m so fortunate to have him near me as my guardian angel at the gate. To me he is my private saint.

To nearly end the month, I will celebrate the birth of my firstborn daughter, Alexandra Brandon, born in 1968.

As all of you know, I believe in healing and celebrating. Lisa sent me a dear letter, ending with a Seneca quote she paraphrased: “You surely are a thing of joy for all who come within a mile of you.” Right now, there is no distance that could ever separate us. Thank you all for reminding me that we are here always.

Love has no bounds.

Love & Live Happy,          

I can't get enough of tulips!

“The life of the individual only has value insofar as it aids in making the life of every living thing nobler and more beautiful.”
—Albert Einstein