On Doing the Right Thing

Why does “doing the right thing” often conjure thoughts of hardship, as if doing the right thing is synonymous with sacrifice? What if, instead, one simply did the right thing for the reward of doing the right thing?

The photo below is from Glendalough, “Valley of the Two Lakes,” in Ireland where a sixth century monk named Kevin (Coemhghein in his native tongue) made his home. In this place, the legend of Kevin’s love for nature and animals was born— a legend that Irish poet Seamus Heaney borrowed over a thousand years later to craft a reflection on doing the right thing.

Glendalough_Ireland © 2014 Lucy Mathews Heegaard

A few years ago, when I heard Irish poet Seamus Heaney introduce his poem “St. Kevin and The Blackbird,” I was touched by his description of the story as “a little meditation” on “doing the right thing for the reward of doing the right thing.” (more…)

An Ode to Light (and my Sister)

 

“How far that little candle throws his beams! So shines a good deed in a weary world.” ― William Shakespeare

For the last decade, if not longer, I have lit a candle every morning while I sit and sip my coffee to start my day. My family, very familiar with this habit of mine, thoughtfully chooses nice candles as gifts for me because they know I won’t splurge on the fancy ones for myself. Diligently conserving them so that they last as long as possible, I’ve always been careful not to let them burn too long each morning.

But all that changed on Christmas of last year, all because of my sister. Her gift to me was light, an abundance of it. Two big boxes were filled with individually wrapped presents, all for me. Each present was labeled, one for every month of the year. The accompanying note was titled “The Light in Lucy’s House.” (more…)

An American Elegy

“Ah, music,” he said, wiping his eyes. “A magic beyond all we do here!” — Albus Dumbledore in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

Composer Frank Ticheli has said that his hope for “An American Elegy” is that it might serve as “one reminder of how fragile and precious life is and how intimately connected we all are as human beings.” Ticheli was commissioned to write the orchestral piece to remember those who died in the shooting at Columbine High School in April of 1999, and to honor the lives of those who survived.

One of my dearest friends, about whom I’ve written often, heard the music played by her son’s school orchestra and was moved beyond words by the power of it, the poetic strength coupled with such vulnerable emotional resonance. She tucked away the title just like she tucked away other other things that moved and inspired her, quotes from Emerson and St. Augustine among them. After she died from metastatic breast cancer, Ticheli’s piece was played at the beginning of her memorial service, an instruction she had left behind for her family. Whenever I hear the opening bars, the music never fails to take my breath for a moment, in goosebumps and tears, just like it did the first time I heard it at her service. (more…)

Of Letters and Stories and Cuban Revolution

“A letter is a Joy of Earth” — Emily Dickinson

I’ve always loved letters, saving them like rare currency. When the volumes of them in my basement grew too big after decades of stashing them in boxes, I sifted through and parted with some that no longer had meaning, often written by people I could no longer remember. However, I found that even with these letters, I couldn’t simply throw them away. After all, at one point in my life, they felt important enough to keep. So, I made a bonfire and lay them in the flames one by one.

What remained after my de-cluttering was a collection that was still quite large, but now held only letters from close family and friends whose notes to me through the years serve collectively as an ad hoc archive of my life. Perhaps that’s why I love letters so much: they are a private vehicle for exchanging our most precious stories. (more…)

Jules of Nature

With her trusty Canon camera in hand, J. Marion Brown has honed the practice of paying attention to a fine art (literally) as she catches moments in nature the rest of us miss. 

JMarionBrown by Adrienne Camhi

Since November of 2011, Brown has been sharing a photograph each day on her tumblr site, JULES OF NATURE, pairing each of her images with an astutely chosen quote, offering, as her website says, “food for the soul and a feast for the eyes.” I start my day there every morning over coffee for the lovely pause it gives me. Awhile back, I asked her to tell me why she likes being behind the lens. Her answer is in this short video about her work, a labor of love that’s become a way of life for her.

She has been taking pictures since her kids were born, but became passionate about nature photography in the 1990s when she began camping with her family on the property in the Wisconsin woods where they ultimately built a home, after years of testing it out first in tents.

PHOTOGRAPH of J. Marion Brown by Adrienne Camhi. MUSIC in video by Wall Matthews. Photographs in video by J. Marion Brown. NATURE SOUNDS by R. H. Humphries.

Love is Up to the Challenge

“Just as people have eyes to see light with and ears to hear sounds with, so they have hearts for the appreciation of time.”— Michael Ende

If you are skittish about the topic of death, then stop reading this post right now. Or better yet, don’t. I used to be one of those people, superstitious that talk of death would draw it nearer somehow. Yet, when one of my closest friends was diagnosed with terminal cancer, it became a topic I could not avoid. And guess what? I found out that talking about death could actually be a very life affirming act.

I’ve been reminded of this irony recently by a friend of a friend of mine, a man I never met but whose forthright manner of living with and ultimately dying from ALS has inspired and touched me since I first heard his story. When my friend Barbara McAfee asked me to create a video of her song about her friend Jamie Showkeir, I had no idea I’d be drawn so completely into his story that I’d feel I knew him personally. (more…)