The Valley of Love and Delight

Sunday Service: The Valley of Love and Delight

March 26th, 2017 - 10:30 AM                   Rev. Fiona Heath

This is one of those trite but true adages.
The simple things in life matter.

As Kurt Vonnegut says “enjoy the little things in life because one day you’ll look back and realize they were the big things.”

Our lives, our character, are determined by the choices we make every day.

 

We are made up of coffee breaks and tv sitcoms and QEW commutes.
We are shaped by job choices and holiday experiences, by who we love and with whom we spend our days.

And we are created by the moments we choose kindness, when we choose honesty even with dealing with difficult truths, when we choose compassion and care for others.

And we are created by the moments when we don’t.

Those daily choices, often insignificant, build our characters over time.

Our everyday experiences matter more than we realize.

We need to make time for the people and things that matter most to us.

A steady diet of simple pleasures keeps your spirit strong.   
Keeping the small things that bring you pleasure —a good meal, working in the garden, time with friends— consistently in your life, leaves you happier in the long run and helps you through the troubled times. (David Lykken)

Those moments of happiness help keep us grounded in what really matters – the people we love and the values we hold.
 
I want to share a story of a woman who knew how to enjoy the small pleasures of living and how they left her and her family better off.

Norma was just an ordinary woman, living most of her life in a small town in Michigan, raising two kids with her husband on a modest income.  
The kids grew up and left home, and she and her husband lived on quietly, reaching 67 years together.

In the summer of 2015, when her son was on his once a year visit, Norma’s husband  became gravely ill.  Norma was also being tested for a medical concern.

Days after her husband died, Norma, along with her son Tim and daughter in law Ramie, visited her doctor for the results of a scan.

Norma had a large tumour, likely cancerous.  It was time for surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.  

The 90 year old Norma looked at the doctor and said “No thanks, I’m hitting the road.”

And she did.

Her son Tim and his wife Ramie were retired and travelled full time in an RV with their large poodle Ringo.  

With the death of his father, Tim didn’t want to leave her alone in a nursing home, and invited her to join them in the RV.

Throughout Norma’s life with her husband, she had rarely left Michigan.

Knowing her diagnosis, Tim and Ramie were worried Norma wouldn’t survive long travelling in the motor home, but as they drove and explored, Norma began to thrive.

She gained a little weight, she wasn’t in pain, and with the assistance of a cane and a wheelchair, she was able to get out and about.

Ramie created a facebook page Driving Miss Norma, to keep friends and family up to date on their adventures.

Norma tasted key lime pie for the first time in her life and loved it.
She received a pedicure for the first time.
She rode a horse.

She and Ringo the dog went for a drive in a red scooter.

Every picture shows Norma smiling with delight, with new people, in new places.  Often with a beer in hand.

As they continued on their trip, the Driving Miss Norma facebook page became more and more popular.
Over a year, half a million people began to follow her adventures.

Last March they stopped in a town with a St. Patrick’s Day parade going on the next day. Norma said she wanted to attend.  
 
Tim reached out to the parade sponsors, the local chamber of commerce, to see about a roadside spot safe for wheelchairs.  
In an hour, they called back and asked if Norma would like to be in the parade as they had an extra car and driver.

Norma said yes, and got the best view in the parade.

She told Tim she had met more new people in the first two months than she had in the previous twenty years.

They began to get invitations everywhere they went, and were interviewed on national news networks.

This was due in a large part to Norma’s ability to enjoy small activities, to live in the present moment.  

Whenever she was asked about what had been her favourite place on the trip, Norma said “right here!”

Imagine if we saw every place, every moment we are in, as our favourite.
 “right here!”  Right now.
Could you savour every experience?
 
In August of 2016, after one year and 32 states and 13,000 miles, the family stopped on San Juan Island in Washington State.  
The cancer had caught up with Norma.

Friends gave them a beautiful spot to park their motor home, and Tim found hospice home support for Norma as her medical needs increased.

Norma spent her last days with her family, still in the motor home, and died peacefully last September at the age of 91.

Before the trip, Norma was just an ordinary person, not especially successful by most external measures.  She hadn’t achieved any great career.  She didn’t have a large loving family, just her son and his wife.

And yet in her final year of life she inspired thousands of people with the pleasure she took in key lime pie.   

Norma was a delightful adventurer, who found joy in the little things, from a jigsaw puzzle to a St. Patrick’s Day parade.

And she and Tim and Ramie treasured their deeper connection.

Norma was remembered by thousands, and tributes were aired on television stations in Canada, Britain, and Australia, as well as the United States.  

Tim and Ramie noted that over the trip with Norma, "We have … learned so much about the human spirit and the beauty of people from all over the world.”

In memory of Norma, Tim and Ramie suggest that people find a way to infuse some joy in the world.  

What might you do to infuse some joy in the world?
What can you do to live more in the present moment?  
Right here. Right now.
 
(driving miss  norma on facebook, npr article, book excerpt)

&

Now, I know that the desire for a simple life arises in part because our lives, Canadian society, global politics, are amazingly complicated.

We have almost all the knowledge of the world on our cell phones.
News of any big event in the world often arrives in real time, as it is happening, in all its intensity and confusion.
We don’t live our lives in one place at a time any more.

There is immense pressure to do more, achieve more and even be more.

It’s exhausting.  

Simplicity becomes a dream, that simple summer life at the cottage, that is just a break from real life.  

Or simplicity becomes an achievement in itself, a lifestyle choice that involves a lot of white walls and rustic wood accents.   

It takes a lot of work and money to make your life look that simple.

Simplifying becomes another  achievement to tick off. Especially for people of privilege.

And yet, ultimately, I believe simplicity is a way of recognizing the deep complexity of the real world.

Minimizing the distractions in our life helps clarify what we value, helps us see more clearly.

The artist Georgia O’Keefe once wrote “nobody sees a flower really – it is so small – we haven’t time – and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time.”

O’Keefe helped us see flowers by painting them on huge canvas.
Appreciating all the small wonders of daily life – like flowers – takes time.
Having friends takes time.

And we don’t always live in ways that make space to be here right now.
To relax with friends and not worry about the task list.

We don’t live in ways that encourage the enjoyment of simple pleasures.

There is always something wrong, something more to do, somewhere else to be.  
I feel it too, one more task to add to the list pops into my head every hour.


I feel guilty for relaxing with a good book when I know there are unread emails.

And yet, what gives life meaning but those simple pleasures?
It is the little moments accumulate into happiness and good memories.
That bring us back into the right here, right now.

Turning to the simple pleasures of life is a way of honouring the best of life.  Of honouring those you are with, of accepting the beauty – or even the ordinariness - of the moment.

I think part of why we distract ourselves so much is that we think life should be more exciting and intense, and feel dull when it is not.

But seeing life – seeing flowers and friends clearly - takes time, takes quiet, unremarkable time.

And taking time for small pleasures can seem selfish and superficial, as global politics are unsettled, complicated and confusing.  

People everywhere are in desperate need, living in what is left of Syria to fearing deportation from the United States, to facing famine in Africa.

It feels very white middle class privilege to think that a cup of tea is going to make me feel better.

And yet it does.  Every single morning.
The warmth of the mug in my hands, the slow sips, the ginger cookie.

All these bring me back into my body, into right here, right now.

It’s too easy to live in fear of the future, to martyr ourselves to the cause of the day.  
It’s too easy to let the ends justify the means, alienating those we care for in pursuit of personal goals.

Keeping ourselves connected through small pleasures helps us catch a glimpse of the bigger picture, reminds us that life is more marvellous and more complex than we are.   

Life is bigger than politics.
Life gets ugly and cruel but there is still beauty.
The world is always in turmoil.  The chaos will never cease.  

All we can do, as poet Adam Zagajewski says is to “try to praise the mutilated world.”

Try to praise the mutilated world.

Remember June's long days,
and wild strawberries, drops of rosé wine.
The nettles that methodically overgrow
the abandoned homesteads of exiles.

You must praise the mutilated world.

You watched the stylish yachts and ships;
one of them had a long trip ahead of it,
while salty oblivion awaited others.
You've seen the refugees going nowhere,
you've heard the executioners sing joyfully.

You should praise the mutilated world.

Remember the moments when we were together
in a white room and the curtain fluttered.
Return in thought to the concert where music flared.
You gathered acorns in the park in autumn
and leaves eddied over the earth's scars.

Praise the mutilated world
and the gray feather a thrush lost,
and the gentle light that strays and vanishes
and returns.
Adam Zagajewski

The world is messed up and imperfect.
We ourselves are messed up and imperfect.

Sometimes we all we need to do is appreciate the gentle light that strays and vanishes and returns.
To be right here. Right now.

Let us praise the mutilated world.
Let us take the time to see the beauty.
May we enjoy the simple, small pleasures of life.
Right here. Right now.
 
So Say We All.

 


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