Sub-Tropical Musings

When you live in South Florida, winter is a relative thing. Our definition of cold tends to make Northerners double over with laughter. But this winter has been no joke here in Florida. With snow in the Panhandle and temperatures in the high 20′s and low 30′s in Miami’s western suburbs, many of us have been left shivering in our inadequately heated homes. And that set me to thinking about what it is that comforts me. Heat, to be sure. When I lived up north I liked nothing better than to build a roaring fire in my fireplace to warm me against winter’s chill. But sometimes fireplaces and good heaters are not enough. Sometimes comfort can prove quite elusive.

These past few weeks have brought me news of illness and death, both personally and globally. Three friends have been diagnosed with cancer. For two, I fear, the handwriting is already on the wall. A family member passed away at the height of the northern blizzards when travel was an impossibility, a sad situation made sadder by the inability of friends to offer comfort personally. And the crisis in Haiti continues to dominate the news and our thoughts here in South Florida. Where is the comfort there?

And then I heard two things on the radio that focused my quest for comfort: a bit of music and some extended kindness. These things were just snippets, a few bars of sound and an off-hand remark, part of a larger interview with someone who was in Haiti reporting on the ongoing process of recovery. The occasion was the one-month anniversary of the earthquake. People had gathered for a commemorative program in a square somewhere in Port-au-Prince and they were singing. The words were in French, but the melody was unmistakable: “How Great Thou Art.” A hymn from my childhood. The power of music was offering comfort and the strength to go on. And the off-hand remark concerned an observation made by the radio reporter. He had noticed that, with as little as the Haitian people seemed to have to eat and to drink, they were sharing their provisions with animals. Their own animals, to be sure, but they were also petting and talking to and caring for the strays. They were extending kindness.

In these two examples I had my answer to the comfort question: music and animals. As far as music goes, I have sung my entire life: in church choirs, a high-school girls group, an oratorio society, in the car and in the shower. Music has always had the power to make me laugh and smile and cry and think. The freedom and release of singing has always given me strength.

And as for the animals, I have always loved and attempted to protect them with a fierceness that I reserve for few other things. Cats, horses, mice, birds and the occasional lizard have all passed through my life. I have told them my secrets and tried to learn theirs. And they have offered me comfort by simply being there. To feel the softness of my cat’s fur as she sits on my lap calms and centers me – petting as a meditation. The trust that she extends to me renews me. And her antics make me smile.

“We give comfort and receive comfort, sometimes at the same time.” I don’t know the author of this quote, but I love this quote for all that it encompasses: to sing and to be heard, to touch and to be calmed. To feel comforted. No small accomplishment these days, and something to be honored and acknowledged.

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Date: Friday, 19. February 2010 11:15
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