Every summer, I spend Memorial Day weekend with my parents in the middle-of-nowhere Indiana.
I look forward to my time surrounded by cornfields and quiet, as my life in crowded, loud, busy metropolis is as hectic as I can make it. I own a business, volunteer my time for two (soon to be three) non-profits, have somewhat of a social life, and—Lord help me—I write. Having a full calendar professionally and personally means that my time hidden away in the peaceful retreat that is the Midwest is a welcome escape, even though there is little to do except be in each others’ presence for a few days’ time.
That is always enough.
But the Memorial Day trip is always a bit different. That Saturday morning always starts at our favorite coffee shop downtown, my chai tea latte and my caffeinated parents making the perfect companions for what is happening across the street in the center of town—Arts Around the Fountain, where photographers, painters, sculptors, and other varied crafty artistic folk gather in dingy tents, presenting their soul’s work to the world.
Well, the world that is that small town.
There are beautiful things every four feet, and we take our sweet time strolling through, looking and touching and letting their art speak to our hearts, however that ends up taking place. Purchases are made here and there, and by the time our fancy drinks are gone, we’ve walked through 40 to 50 creative spaces, feeling somehow better about the world after doing so.
Lately, my perspective of this experience has been less than beautiful—I’m caught up with worry about future moves, questioning my path to here, and which fork I am supposed to follow or create next. As deep as the passion for my work runs through my veins, warm and strong, I fight with the day to day bull that comes with the territory.
The high level of stress inherent to my career has put me on bed rest more than once, albeit not lately, but still, I remember. Sick and tired, and tired of being sick, I want to quit every three days but I keep doing what I know and love because my heart has no other choice. It hurts less to stay this course than it does to let it go completely, so I work, still.
I keep myself so busy I forget what day it is, even though I remember what must be done before the sun comes up again. I forget, at times, to stop and breathe, to turn off the music or the television or the phone and simply sit with what is. Breathing, being grateful, and breathing again.
As I sat at my tiny dining room table in my tiny apartment, struggling to focus on the growing task list in front of me, I found myself gazing at the two pictures that hang over a never-sat-in recliner opposite the kitchen. They each portray the side of a quaint home in frame, outlined on the bottom by spring flowers and tall grass. In the center, a vibrantly colored window, half open, paint cracking with age.
They are quiet, and beautiful. And when the sun streams in from my windows and magically brightens the dark cherry wood frames, I appreciate that they are mine. I bought those pictures from a French man in his French photography booth at Arts Around the Fountain in my sleepy hometown. He told me in a thick, difficult to understand accent where he was when he snapped the photos, and he noted the location and date on the back of each. He smiled when he spoke.
Joy in simplicity—sometimes it is truly that effortless.
I spent more money than I should have, but those framed pictures have traveled well with me, from shared home to tiny lonely apartment number one and then tiny, less lonely apartment number two. They spoke to me then, and they are screaming at me today. I remember my parents saying the photos fit me—finding beauty in the small simple aspects of this life suited my home, they said. I hardly recognize that correlation now, but know it to be true.
I also remember a brief conversation I had with my dad at our last Memorial Day crafty Saturday—we had purchased for him the camera he wanted for Christmas a year prior, and he was showing me the photos he had taken some spring day in that small town.
Downtown, the buildings are old and oddly regal—the courthouse sits firmly in the center of tiny two way streets with no stoplights, with its wide columns offering its own sort of presence to an otherwise boring dark gray backdrop, spotted here and there with brick. He captured all of that effortlessly.
As we scrolled through his gems, he made a comment that has stayed with me, even though I thought he was being a photo-dork in that moment: “Look up, Missa. Each of these buildings has the coolest architectural details, but you have to look up toward the sky to see it.” He was right, and the next opportunity I had in my own city to look up, I found exactly what he said I would.
Details. Beautiful, old, handcrafted and cared for details.
Today, as my task list began to overwhelm and my heart started to sink, the sun hit the dark cherry wood frames of that French man’s photos that I purchased from his French photography booth. And in that moment I wanted a chai tea latte and my parents close by. I wanted to roam around the courthouse—that beautifully dull dark gray building in the center of that sleepy town—surrounding myself with beautiful things and artistic souls. I wanted to be reminded to look up toward the sky, like my dad said I should.
So tonight, as deadlines rested peacefully met and the buzz of new e-mails finally subsided, I went outside to indulge in my bad habit, with the cool spring air brushing my tired face and the melting snow beneath my dragging feet. And I looked up toward the sky. The lights from the parking lot and imposing apartment buildings have a way of diluting an otherwise clear starry night, but this evening—this evening I could see everything. Planes flew overhead and the thin clouds moved quickly as if they were on their way to some place more important. The stars were bright and I was centered.
I sat, and breathed, and took it all in, and breathed again. And as the worries of the day—the worries of every day—began to move as fast as those purposeful clouds, I was grateful for the ability to look up. The details, Missa. Those overlooked details created such a simple scene I could not ignore.
As much suffering as we all endure for the greater purpose we are trying to serve, it all boils down to this: there is joy in simplicity, and in each complicated, stress-drenched, busy moment we have an opportunity to appreciate that truth. Getting swept away with calendar entries and e-mail responses and client meetings and other commitments happens, more often than we all would care to acknowledge, but there is always time to sit in this moment and be still, if we seek it out.
So my hope for each of us this day is to take the time to catch the sunlight hit something, see the beauty in how simple that is, and then, look up for the details.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Bryonie Wise