Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Caroline McGraw of A Wish Come Clear.
Last night I dreamt that I was a passenger in a car driving slowly up a familiar road. The scene felt comfortable and ordinary, when suddenly, it changed. All around me was...paradise. The environment became lush, remote and idyllic. Alongside the road grew a myriad of oak trees, gnarled and stately and beautiful. The trees were planted beside a river, and moss hung down from their branches.
The light coming through the old trees made them seem young; in fact, it made everything lovely. I marveled at the sight; how could so many giant trees grow together like this?
I could barely speak for amazement, but when I said aloud, "Where is this place?", I heard the voice of the driver beside me. Though I couldn't see her face, I could hear her reply. She said gently, "Honey, it's not far."
It's not far. When I awoke, that statement still rang in my ears. What did it mean? As a way of answering that question, I've been thinking about other things that aren't as far off as they may seem...
Real relationships aren't far.
I think about this each time I visit the L'Arche home where my husband works. (L'Arche is a faith-based non-profit wherein people with and without intellectual disabilities share life together.) It's where I spent several years as a direct-care assistant, where my husband and I met and fell in love.
Though I've worked at L'Arche for nearly 5 years, I'm soon-to-be self-employed as a writer. This time of transition makes me realize just how important it is for me to stay connected to people. As such, I make sure to have supper at one of the L'Arche houses at least once per week. Those dinners are a part of my connective tissue, part of what keeps me sane. They remind me that I am loved not for what I do, but for who I am.
Compassion isn't far.
Ever since I changed my work schedule, I've been making time for a walk or run every day. It's made such a difference in my perspective. Being outside with no agenda but forward motion wakes me up. It allows me to notice what would ordinarily escape my attention: a crowd of little birds, pecking at a piece of bread; a family of deer, watching as I run past; an older gentleman, hitching up his pants when he thinks no one's watching.
Of course, I'm like you: prone to forget that there's beauty all around me. For example, yesterday morning I attended an 8am work meeting, and I woke up at 6am to get there in time. On my way to my (borrowed) car, I passed through the kitchen of the L'Arche home where I lived and worked for two years.
As I opened the door to the house, I was mentally composing a soliloquy of self-pity. My rant went something like this: "It's so early, and I have to go to this meeting even though I woke up exhausted. I have a runny nose and a stye, I need a shower, and it's all too much!" Had I run into anyone, I'm sure I would have started complaining aloud.
Fortunately, the house was deserted...deserted save for a lone figure slouched over his breakfast cereal. It was my friend Leo*, sitting with his bathrobe and eyes both half-open.
And as soon as I saw him, I could literally feel my attitude change. The sense of self-pity vanished; in its place, I felt compassion. Leo looked tired, too.
I thought of all the mornings I'd helped him with his routine, all the times I'd made sure that bathrobe went into the laundry. I thought of how much we've seen each other through. Both of us lost a close friend this year, and that grief has made its mark.
And what I felt in that moment was gratitude: for Leo, being alive; for me, being alive with him.
What's beautiful isn't far.
That oak-tree dream has stayed with me, not just because of the sense of blessing I felt upon waking but because of the truth embedded in it. It helped me to see that a world of beauty is never far away. Despite the sadness and death and hurt that is being alive, there are also glimpses of paradise to be found within this life we live.
*Names have been changed.