Latest “All Things Considered” commentary

During campaign season, maintaining serenity is a good trick

by Gordon C. Stewart, “All Things Considered” guest commentary (MPR)

Aired August 20, 2012

Click HERE for the Minnesota Public Radio publication, including an Audio link. Here’s the text.

Some days are brightened by a trip to the nursing home.

Take last Monday, for instance.

The members of the group that meets every Monday at 10 a.m. shuffle in on their walkers, or roll in, in their wheel chairs.

Ninety-seven-year-old Frances (not her real name; nor are the others to follow) walks in without assistance. Her 78-year-old son is dying of cancer. Another relative, 30 years younger than she, is next door in the memory care unit. “Good morning!” she says.

Georgana has been confined to a wheelchair all her life. But her mind is as sharp as her sense of humor. Gwen, who’ll be 90 this week, is coming to the end with hospice care. Pat, recently moved from Assisted Living to the Care Center, is in a wheelchair. All 12 of them smile and offer each other greetings: “Good morning!”

This morning I’ve watched too many campaign ads brought to my computer by Unedited Politics, a website that republishes campaign ads and political speeches without editorial comment. I’m all stirred up.

The 12 people from the nursing home have been drawn here by their desire for light. “Rejoice!” says the reading for the morning. “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation ….”

I ask: How do you rejoice in a nursing home? What is the secret of being content when your body and your mind don’t do what they once did?

Listening to their reflections reminds me of how small our footprint is on the larger world. They share my distress about the news, but their years have taught them to recognize light wherever it meets them and to relish the little things of daily life: a smile, a kind word, the cardinal and the squirrels playing outside their windows, a sense of inner peace, a strange contentment. I hope to be more like them — to pay more attention to the things that are beautiful, admirable and lovely.

While they shuffle out on their walkers and roll out in their wheelchairs, Frances, Georgana, Gwen, Pat and the rest of the ad hoc community at the nursing home thank me for coming and wish me a good week. They have lightened my step. I’ll still pay attention to the news, but I’ll listen and watch with a greater lightness of being.

A Lightness of Being

Dew Drops on a Spider's Web

Dew Drops on a Spider’s Web – Kay Stewart Photography

This spider’s web, covered with early morning dew – a natural miracle nearly invisible to the naked eye – was in the corner of a flower box on our deck. Kay, whose camera is always nosing around for the things we do not see, took this photograph. The poem was inspired by the smallness I felt – the beauty of smallness – seen in the magnificence if a spider’s web in morning light and in e. e. cummings’ poem “who are you, little i”.

“A Lightness of Being” – Gordon C. Stewart

who are you, little i, sitting above

the world so high (e. e. cummins)

on the high perch home

hammers and saws have made

on land filled and leveled by

bulldozers and gas-guzzling graders?

then i see it in the morning sun

the all-but-imperceptible home

spun from inside a spider self,

wet with drops strung like beads

so small, so delicate, so light

they leave the spider’s home intact,

a natural grace respecting strength

and weakness – a lightness of being

that does not crush or break

this hidden part – this most amazing part –

of a larger Web of life we barely see