A few days ago I snapped this picture of a sunset from my back door. I love the serenity of this photo with its brilliant hues & the sun's rays warmly glinting off the patio table, despite the fact that it's only 10 degrees outside. It's as though Winter herself is inviting us to sit for a spell & enjoy her quiet beauty. And truth be told, I've always loved the winter season—the way it's cold often forces us to slow down a little & ponder life in different, perhaps deeper, ways. With trees now bare of their leaves and a delicate blanket of snow cloaking the yard, life seems reduced to its stark essentials.
So I call this collection of photos my "Winter Cafe." Each one is an opportunity to stop & drink from our surroundings for a moment without the distraction of spring & summer's vivid & competing colors, each one shouting "Life—more life!" In these photos, we see a world at pause, pooling energy at its roots—waiting—enduring—through frost & cold with a hardened faith in what it knows is inevitable.
Because no matter how bleak the landscape might appear sometimes through my frosted windows, the soft winter sunlight still glistens at dawn, and wisdom tells us that change is always the operative word, the only thing we can count on in this life.
Some of that change is welcome, when I have to face trudging to my old barn through snow & cold in the early light. I know these conditions won't last forever, and that spring is indeed around the corner.
Or when I walk along the lake near my home and hear shards of ice clacking against the shore. I know surely the wildlife are eager to see spring's return & the promise of more food that it offers.
But then, at other times, such change is not nearly so welcome. Last night I visited a dear friend's mother, who was told she has only two weeks to live. This news came as a shock to us all. I wish I could have you close your eyes for a moment & wave a magic wand & cause each one of you to feel the kind of joy & light this woman always brings into a room. Dozens of plaques adorn her walls for the dedication & innovation she has brought to schools throughout a lifetime of service as a teacher & a principal. Yet what I love about her most, beyond her sparkling eyes & wit that can make an entire room erupt into laughter, is her keen insight into the moments that matter most in life. Even though there was a throng of people at her home last night, all chatting & telling stories & squeezing in their last visits with her, I saw her turn her head for a second at a soft sound that was coming from another room. No one else seemed to hear or to notice it—but it was the sound of children giggling. Children who'd been too restless & noisy & who'd been sent to another room to play. Yet despite the clamor of guests around her, the woman looked up at me, her eyes twinkling, and said, "Do you hear it? That's my favorite sound in the whole world."
And of course she's the kind of woman who freely lets squirming children sit on her lap. And she's the kind of woman who thought to hold a "jewelry party" for all of her granddaughters & gave them every precious bauble she'd ever owned—even some with diamonds in them—and then just smiled at the girls as though each one was an angel from Heaven. This is a wise woman who knows how to put her affairs in order, as straight as the frozen rows in the cornfields that surround the countryside near her home.
But this is also a woman who's not going to refuse her final appointment at the Winter Cafe. She will drink from this cup, and take time out to cherish everything she has ever loved. And in doing so, she's bravely preparing herself to walk that final snowy path alone. The ultimate change is coming for her, and she knows it, just as we know it. She will not see another spring.
But the one thing I understand for certain in a lifetime ruled by change: When it's time for our dear Madeline to go, although there'll only be one set of footprints along her frosted path, the cold air around her will be filled with the thrum of a thousand Angels' wings. And to her, it will sound just like her grandchildren giggling . . .
Madeline did make her final transition shortly after I wrote this article on the night of 2/15/13. Below is one of my favorite pictures of her with her two beautiful granddaughters at her side, showing the typical radiance of spirit that was such a blessing to her community for so many years. And I want everyone to know that although I've been fortunate to interview celebrities & even meet a rock star during my blogging journey, none of these individuals has come close to the overwhelming volume of readers who were touched by Madeline's story. Why? I like to think it's because people like Madeline are the real stars of our lives—for their vibrant spirits light our paths & make our own souls shine that much brighter. And now, Madeline has her wings . . .