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Blog by Alan Seale, October 12, 2020, |   Ordinary Life

It’s a spectacular blustery autumn day on the north shore of Massachusetts. Warm in the sun, yet almost wanting a jacket in the shade. Wind rustling energetically in the golden-leafed woods behind my house, yet not so brisk that you can’t enjoy sitting outside. A trio of red-tailed hawks soars on the thermals high above me. And for just a moment, a bald eagle appears even higher in the deep blue sky—the first time I’ve spotted a bald eagle from my deck. I’ve spent a good part of the day sitting out here and taking it all in. Letting there be nothing else but right here, right now. Simple gifts that feed the soul – medicine for uncertain times.    

There is so much going on. Every day, another turn of events. How many articles have I begun in recent months with similar words? It’s just where we are. Some days it feels like we’ve been here forever. For how much longer, no one really knows.  

All the more reason why simple gifts are so critical. Simple gifts that feed the soul. Medicine for uncertain times. 

Often, these simple gifts catch us by surprise. At other times, we orchestrate them ourselves, designing a special moment for the express purpose of feeding the soul. Yet even when we plan them, something unexpected can still show up—something that deepens our smiles, wraps around our hearts. And for a moment, the rest of the world disappears. We just have to pay attention so that we don’t miss them.  

These days, I’m savoring every simple gift that comes along. Like the sound of my 90-year-old mother’s voice. She lives very far away—halfway across the country. I haven’t seen her since January, and I don’t know when I will. Yet we speak every day. Sometimes twice a day just because we can. Such a simple thing, yet a treasure.   

I take delight in daily text messages and emails from friends in far-away lands. Sometimes they send photos of places and people they know I am missing. Sometimes short messages of affection and connection. Sometimes sharing a quote, a video, a story. Simple gifts.

Since the late spring, Johnathon and I have shared monthly socially-distanced suppers with dear friends on their long screened back porch. They sit at one end and we at the other. In fact, we’ll be there tonight—our last porch dinner for the season. They are 10 years older than us, brilliant minds and tender hearts, and even more tethered to home than we are. We make sure to laugh a lot in between deep conversations. And we long to hug each other. Alas, not yet. These simple porch dinners have helped all four of us keep going during these last months. As the temperatures drop, we’re plotting how we can continue into the winter sitting at opposite ends of a long room inside their house. Just being together—simple gifts.  

Sunday morning Zoom calls with dear friends in Berlin. We’re in touch more regularly and have deeper conversations now than ever before thanks to the pandemic. We talk about all kinds of things from politics to cooking to books and movies to our work in the world. Underneath our words is deep love and commitment to a life-long friendship. Simple gifts. 

As the season turns, I sit in front of the fire in the early morning darkness, mug of coffee warming my hands, and a snuggly dog on either side while Johnathon sleeps upstairs a little longer—simple gifts that feed the soul.  

The brilliant colors of autumn in New England. The falling leaves. Every day, I can see deeper into the woods that surrounds our tiny community of 66 houses. This morning on my early walk, I caught my first glimpse of the river just beyond the woods. It’s been hidden by the deep foliage all summer. As the woods open up with the change of seasons, so does my soul open to reveal deeper layers inside. Simple gifts. 

These simple gifts feed my soul. They aren’t about material things or accomplishments or goals or visions. The more present I am in the moment, the more I notice them. Being present with “what is,” even when the “what is” is not what I might have wished for. It’s just the reality of life these days. The uncertainties and challenges open doors for unexpected gifts. 

Those gifts are also a part of “what is.” So while I find myself weary at times, wondering how we are going to find our way through the “what is,” I also acknowledge the profound gifts that come my way—some for a moment, some for a day or longer—gifts that I might have missed without our current “what is.”  

My life has gotten a lot simpler over the last six months. Travel has stopped. In fact, I rarely go beyond the border of my little community. I have filled the fuel tank of my car only three times since March 3rd! Yet for the most part, I feel little need or desire to go anywhere else. I am grateful every day for home and partner and four-legged companions. I am grateful for where I live, for the beauty of our natural surroundings, for peace and quiet, for warm and caring neighbors. 

I keep learning more about myself. What is important to me is changing. The hermit-like part of my soul is reveling in this time and asking for an even slower pace. It wants more time for reflection—more time to probe deeper in what it means to live right here, right now. Actually, stretching my capacity to live right here, right now has been the most profound gift of all. For that, my gratitude overflows.

It’s getting on towards late afternoon now. The golden autumn light is beginning to soften on the trees and the blustery winds have gotten quieter. The redtail hawks have followed the thermals to somewhere else. A delicate fawn that still has her spots has come out of the woods for a brief appearance before slipping silently back into the thicket. 

What simple gifts are you appreciating these days? What are the little things that make you smile, that warm your heart, and that give you strength and resilience to go on? 

Simple gifts that feed the soul—medicine for uncertain times.