When impressionist painter, Claude Monet, was 80, he received a visit from a Parisian photographer who was interested in talking with him about his life. Monet finally said to him, “Look, if you really want to know me, go into my garden and look at my water lilies. They are more me than my paintings . They are more me than the me you see standing in front of you.”
I wish I could have asked my mother before she died what thing, what object or landscape or idea, like Monet’s water lilies, captures her true essence.
She might have said: her lilac bush, a raspberry, a gorgeous sunset, Yosemite’s half dome, a glass of orange juice, an ice cream cone, the robin’s nest on her front porch, the faces of her grandchildren, a good hearty joke, or maybe even Robert Redford’s blue eyes. Like Monet, my mother might have chosen something outside herself that strangely reveals and reflects her true spirit.
But instead of a thing, I want to offer a simple action that I think speaks of my mother’s true essence. It was Rita Ann’s way of life. This simple action: STOP. LOOK. AND LISTEN.
STOP. Don’t hurry. Don’t rush. Steady and slow, make sure you pause. Practice patience. Practice pausing.
LOOK. Look at the flower, at the bird, at the child learning how to walk, at the neighbor or friend. Look at the way the setting sun hits the tops of the trees and captures true beauty. Look. Look at the full moon rising. Look. Really look. If you don’t stop you can’t really see, you will miss the small details that make life so meaningful.
Watch a child, they get right down on the ground to observe an ant, a bee, or a snail leaving a slimey trail. They are not concerned with time but rather with wonder.
My mom, at 72, still had these eyes of wonder, this way of looking at the world. Even though she was unable to bend down to see the small details of an ant or a bird outside her window, she was still looking, still looking full of wonder at the next face that would walk through the door.
Her way of looking was emotionally and spiritually rich. In her face, in her looking, I could see the amazement in her eyes at restored relationships. I could see peace wash over her in the way she looked at the woman who would come to bathe her each day. Her way of looking said, “I know you. You’re a healer. You are holy.”
Look at the world around you. It is full of magic and light and beauty. It is full of grace and forgiveness and love and healing.
My mother said to me recently, “you must tell others that dying does not have to be sad, it can be joyful.” I am pretty sure she said this because she practiced a life of “wonder looking”. This “wonder looking” is a mindful looking--a looking that is entirely whole and complete.
STOP. LOOK. AND LISTEN. Listen. Listen closely to the birds, listen to the cold front that brings strong breezes, listen carefully to each other.
My mother would stop and talk and listen to anyone. She loved conversation and she loved people. Sometimes this would drive me crazy. I would want to move along because we would have to be somewhere at a certain time and she would stop and listen to a stranger, an 8 year old neighbor, or the grocery clerk.
She would know things about people that shocked me. But I get it now. People would tell her things because she had a look about her that said, “go on, you can trust me, I am interested in you. I want to hear you. I want to listen.” Her listening invited people to open up and share. Her listening was healing.
STOP. LOOK. AND LISTEN. My mother’s true essence. Yes. A small but significant gift to the world. Definitely.