When I was trying to figure out how to help my kids grow up in a complicated, often frustrating, and sometimes overwhelming world, I landed on a couple of rules that were comparatively easy to grasp. I suppose that sounds a little simplistic but after practicing them for most of my life, I think they’re pretty reliable. The first one is “the five year rule.” When in the midst of what felt like the worse possible crisis, one with no apparent way out, the abrupt question “what were you doing five years ago today?” was an instant conversation-stopper. Invariably the person asked that question would say, “do you mean about five years ago or exactly five years ago?” The answer to that inquiry never really mattered. No one could remember five years ago in any way but a blurry one. The next step was to share the friendly insight that five years from now, the trauma of this moment would one day be as hard to recall as the one from back then. For most of life’s challenges, this strategy of casting perspective over challenging moments worked like the proverbial charm. Major catastrophes aside, it’s a foolproof way of reducing a lot of painful, yet nebulous drama.
The next strategy that I repeated ad nauseum concerned the development of coping skills. I’d figured out that most of life is spent coping with all kinds of situations, ranging from the smallest unexpected events to the biggest, interspersed with both mundane and joyous moments when things go smoothly. At least that’s how it seemed to be for me and most of the people I knew. I’d found that developing some reliable methods of problem-solving was not only practical but also calming in stressful times. Coping skills could be anything from exercising to burn off steam, to listening to relaxing music, to cooking up a storm in the kitchen. Whenever I personally felt bogged down, I found that cleaning everything in sight invariably helped me think my way out of my quandaries. My line was – and still is – “the people with the best lives are people with the best coping skills.” I believe that and I think my family does too.
The final rule is what I’d call a bite-sized one. The great big world’s issues juxtaposed on the complexity of our little lives can often feel too tough to manage. I always hated that feeling of sinking below the weight of that big unmanageable load. I knew that for those of us lucky enough to be free of clinical depression, there always had to be some way to get through the tough times. I came up with a goal and an accompanying slogan. “Find a little beauty every single day, no matter how small it seems.” Whatever groove that line occupies in my brain must be very deep because I’m always on that quest no matter how dreadful I feel. Through every difficult time in my life, disappointment, loneliness, isolation and even death, a part of me is looking around for that little slice of beauty. I’ve surprised myself, recognizing that my daily hunt keeps me connected to life like nothing else. This last rule is the one that has spurred me to share the fabulous delights of October in the heartland, my home in the midwest.
This past summer was one of the hottest and driest in Illinois as well as the rest of the world. On the heels of the previous few summers which followed a similar weather pattern, I worried about how I would keep my garden alive, most especially for the birds, butterflies and bees that depend on the food supply I’ve established for them over the years. I watered almost every day, receiving the highest water bills I’ve ever had in the decades I’ve lived in my home. Even with that effort, this year many perennial plants didn’t show up in my yard while others looked exhausted all summer. As fall temperatures rolled around in mid-October, I turned my worrying to the trees in my community which had also suffered from the drought. Many looked drab compared to previous years, with some dropping their leaves all at once while others had multiple dead limbs or had died altogether. I wondered if the typical brilliant colors of fall would be notably absent this year, a foreshadowing of the toll climate change is wreaking on this planet. Long ago I’d learned that the beauty of the fall palette is dependent on a combination of temperature, rain and sunlight, although I couldn’t say much about the quantities of those individual elements. All I know is that after a slow dull start, a few good rainstorms and moderate weather has seemed to miraculously restore so much of what looked like a loss earlier this year. The profusion of hues has been dazzling, from the yellowest of yellows, to the oranges and rusts and finally, to the deep mahoganies and flaming reds which are my favorites.
I’ve been positively gluttonous about this unexpectedly lengthy abundance of beauty. I’m taking pictures from every possible angle, outside my house and through my windows. I drive up and down the streets, pulling over so I can hang my head upside down under a particularly glorious branch. My daily tenacity has kind of surprised me although I realize I’m just trying to soak in as much of this fleeting display as I can before the gray months arrive. How many leaf photos do I actually need? That number has yet to be determined. However, this hedonistic luxuriating is a bit too self-indulgent considering my principle of finding just a little beauty in every day. So I’m sharing the wealth with whoever might chance upon this post. I hope you enjoy the splendor as much as I do.