I imagine that life has changed in many ways for you. And I imagine that many of these changes make it more difficult for you to experience some of the simple beauty that life offers. While it might be more difficult to experience it, beauty still surrounds you. It is in the sun shining in through the windows. It is in clouds darkening the day. It is in the faces of those you love. It is in words of blessing and memories of kindnesses
Even though beauty surrounds you, however, you will need to be intentional about staying connected with beauty on a daily basis. Doing this is a form of self-care. And, like any kind of self-care, you may find yourself resistant to paying attention to your needs.
That is one of the reasons I am writing you these notes, dear older self. I encourage you to pay attention. I encourage you to live intentionally. I encourage you to live as fully as you can each day.
Beauty is one of the things that feeds us spiritually and protects us from despair. Beauty keeps us engaged with life. Beauty gives us glimpses of the Presence and Mystery of our Creator. It gives us a reason to hope. It helps us remember that we are never alone.
So make it a practice to engage with beauty in many forms each day.
You love poetry so it might be a good idea to keep a book of poetry nearby and to read at least one poem a day. You could also do this with the Psalms or with other Scriptures. If your eyesight does not allow for this, make use of audio recordings that could fill this need. Or you could ask someone to make a recording of your favorite poems and psalms.
Music is another important source of beauty. Be sure to listen every day to some music you love. Music lifts us up. It sneaks past our defenses and touches our hearts and minds. So I am hoping you have some great recordings and some way to listen to them. If not, ask someone to help you get this set up. Remember when you did this for an elderly family member? It made such a difference to her to put on her headphones and to listen to her favorite hymns.
Remember the documentary, Alive Inside: Music and Memory? It that followed several elderly men and women in various stages of dementia? They were given iPods and headphones with playlists of music from their past. You watched as people who were not interacting with others at all and people who struggled to remember much of anything and who had trouble completing a thought literally came to life mentally and emotionally while listening to music they were familiar with through the decades of their lives. Memories came back to them, and so did their ability to talk about those memories. It was miraculous. The beauty and power of music is amazing. Give yourself this gift. Make a playlist. And listen daily. Let yourself come to life in this way.
Being around nature in some form is another important way to bring beauty into your life. Whether it is being in a garden or in a park or by the water or simply sitting by a window with the sun pouring in or the rain or snow falling outside, engage with nature’s beauty every day that you can.
Remember how you regularly went out into your elderly friend’s yard? She was too frail to get outside herself. So every time you visited you would go out in her yard and cut a fresh bouquet of flowers from her flower garden. It brought her so much joy to enjoy this beauty. It also reminded her that her flowers were still thriving. This simple connection with beauty kept her connected with nature and helped to nourish her spirit.
In addition to enjoying the beauty that is around you, you might also think about ways you can create beauty. You might do this by making music or writing poems or telling someone some of the narrative of your life. You can also create beauty by welcoming people genuinely when they visit you. Enjoy their laughter and their stories.
At least two of the elderly women in your life had a way of making ordinary gatherings into parties. One of these women accomplished this by simply smiling broadly and clapping her hands in joy upon seeing any of her visiting loved ones. Everyone was always warmly welcomed in this way. There was never any pressure to be or do anything other than to come when one could and stay as long as one was able. So friends and family were relaxed, free to talk and laugh and be themselves.
The other woman kept single-portion sized ice cream cups in her freezer. Any time a child came to visit her, the visit began with an announcement that it was time for an “ice cream party” and the child was invited to go see what was in the freezer. She always had paper and markers for these children and she invited them to draw whatever they wanted. She then spent time listening to the children talk about their drawings. Do you remember the time when a five year old visitor drew a picture of this elderly friend sitting in her chair near her kitchen window? In the sky above her house, the child had drawn a circle with a smiling mouth and a winking eye. When she asked him about it, the boy said: “It’s a picture of God smiling and winking at you.”
One final thought about beauty, dear older self. When you are having difficulty staying aware of the beauty that is all around you, it might help to practice gratitude. Gratitude opens us see to the gifts of beauty that grace our lives.
Notice the beauty of your loved one’s voice or eyes. Notice the gift of the place that shelters you. Notice the daily gifts, the details, the ordinary and the extraordinary. Beauty is all around us. Notice and give thanks.
This meditation is taken from Notes to Our Older Selves: Suggestions for Aging With Grace by Juanita Ryan and Mary Rae. You can get a copy at Amazon.com