By Tricia Stearns
I have a friend who lives outside of London in a lovely, restored, smallish castle with her handsome husband, a childhood friend of my husband. Born and raised in the United Kingdom, she speaks the Queen’s English and uses the word, lovely, like an American teenager uses the word awesome or amazing. Not only does she over-use the word lovely to describe her son’s new job or the waiter’s quick attention to her empty water glass, but also the word truly describes everything about her to a T. She is lovely, from her flawless skin and clear blue eyes, to her clothes– expensive and well fitted, put together by hip European designers complete with matching handbags for each occasion. In addition, her manners arelovely. She never puts her foot in her mouth, interrupts, or has too strong of an opinion. She appears to be the walking, talking definition of the word, lovely. And I wanted to be just like her.
A few autumns ago, my husband and I traveled to Chicago to spend the weekend with several couples. Looking forward to layering in scrumptious sweaters, sipping pumpkin lattes, and viewing gorgeous trees full of red and yellow hues, I tried to plan my wardrobe. I must travel light, a requirement of all airline employees and their families. I have learned to pack a soft black travel dress that can be worn five different ways. Only two shoes go into the travel bag, and my purse is my camera bag. The lovely Brit traveled with two oversized bags, which included three pairs of boots and a different coat for each outfit. She was baffled and very concerned that I had to get by on such little fashion choices over the weekend. And I wanted her closet.
Theodore Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Many times over the weekend, I struggled with comparing myself and felt insecure. It seemed like the more I internally compared, the more awkward I became. I lectured myself as if I was one of my daughters, but by the last day, I felt like a sixth grader sneaking into the high school prom and sitting at the cool kids table.
We were walking down the street— I in my two day old dress topped with a new sweater, my standard black puffy trench coat that can see rain, snow, Paris in the spring, and Boston in the winter, and the one pair of boots I wear any way and every day. Her husband, as smartly dressed as his wife, stops me and says, “Wait. I think there is something in the back of your hair.” He reaches behind my head, and pulls out my peach colored curler I left in the nape of my neck. Nice. I can’t even get the curlers out of my head before walking into the Chicago Museum of Art.
Fast-forward, a year later, we had a different kind of fall. I attempted to dodge grief by traveling anywhere and everywhere where I could walk and walk and walk without knowing anyone. What I had found after my youngest daughter, Julia, unexpectedly passed in a single car accident, at only 20 years old, was that sometimes people filled the conversations with that dead space, or the awkward advice, and fear-projected glances that sum up feelings like,I can’t imagine, thank goodness it didn’t happen to my child. It became too much of a burden to manage well meaning conversations, to make each person feel okay about my pain and my heart being completely broken–the kind of pain that only someone who has lost a child can understand.
Many times I felt like a visitor not only in a new city, but a new planet. One day in late September, a cool crisp breeze understood my sadness, and we walked, the wind and I, through a small but busy New England town. I discovered this ginormous tree with yellow leaves. The tree, round and full, sat proud with its color shouting from the inside out. A few leaves reluctantly left the large circle of yellow twisting and turning through the air as each drifted to the ground. The tree quietly commanded an odd corner in the center of town where five stop signs intersected to include a railroad crossing as one of the stop signs for a busy commuter rail. I sat in awe of this tree so full of golden goodness in the middle of a man created mess of an intersection, clearly ignoring the significance of this tree, only concerned with who should go where and how fast or slow they should go to keep the wheels of mankind moving.
I sat for what seemed for hours watching leaves dance with and around the wind, floating towards the ground making a carpet of yellow. And through the intersection, life whirled by. A mom in a grey minivan, complete with a soccer ball magnet placed over the fuel tank, chatted on her cell phone intent on her conversation and her destination as she slammed on her brakes at the stop sign the stress of her schedule visible on her taut face. Her eyes darted from stop sign to stop sign complete with flashes of anger and fear: the fear of being late, the fear of not doing it all. I felt her pain, having lived many days just like her. A jogger, with glow green athletic shoes and blue neon earphones blocked out the verbal world, running a steady pace forward. A bus turned the corner, shadows of faces looking down into newspapers, or phones and no one even glanced at my yellow tree. Another round of cars, each ignoring the commuter rail as it rattled closer, the arms of the railroad crossing gliding downward. A car or two attempted a pause through the stop signs racing to beat the safety arms. Two bike riders made a daredevil half-stop through the intersection, taking on another angry mini-van. No one looked twice at my yellow tree. How can they miss this fabulous tree full of love of a fall day? The tree, the wind, and the sun starting to fade late in the day whispered in harmony a golden secret: slow down and breathe.
And the word came to my mind. You know the word. It was a lovely day. And no one seemed to notice. But I did even in my grief. It was truly a lovely day. Not the worldly kind of lovely, full of smart fashion and trendy topics. No, a sincere, timeless beauty. And I remembered other lovely fall days from years gone by. An October trip to Boston with all three of my daughters and how we strolled the Freedom Trail snapping pictures by a statue of Paul Revere and searching the North End for just the right place to stop for pizza. I remembered hayrides through Burt’s farm in North Georgia and the two hours it took for us as a family to pick out the right pumpkin that would be our Jack- o -lantern. My husband and I getting lost on purpose as we hiked a loop in Pine Mountain our dog shaking water on us after jumping in the creek. And I began to walk, the wind joining me, the sun three steps behind me, and I popped into a small general store and picked up a spiral notebook for just over a dollar. I went back to my beautiful yellow tree, and I watched the folks of this little town whirl by while I a made a list. Not a list of to do’s. Or shoulds, or coulds, or woulds, or wishes. No, I made the lovely list. I wrote whatever popped into my head that was lovely.
- A nap on my mother-on-laws screen porch.
- Holding hands with my husband.
- My daughter’s laughter in my kitchen.
- Bonnie’s macaroni and cheese.
- The trees on my own street.
My list continued. And I add to it to this day. Everywhere there is a yellow tree. This fall I hope you stop, and breathe, and listen to your heart and make your own lovely list. Jot down what fills you with joy, what makes you pause, what makes you think, wow, that is just lovely.