Late afternoon clouds hint at possible sunset brilliance, as I drive back from the memory care home where my mother now resides. The solace of a sunset would be a welcome moment of grace, after an afternoon of primal heartache. I park by our forest cabin and leave city and keys behind. I delay assuaging my hunger so that I can walk to the lake before the sun disappears, just in case. Never can tell in advance how sunset colors will or won’t play.
I reach the lake in time, but only grey is on the horizon. A new band of clouds arriving from the west is a harbinger of tomorrow’s expected storm. It covers the path between sun rays and higher clouds—a sudden but common change. In Oregon, arriving rain is a familiar sight.
I let go of my attachment to a brilliant sunset. It’s enough to be by the lake in solitude and stillness, finding communion with the geese, the breeze, my love for my disappearing mother. The grey is beautiful too, and apt. The lake is rising from recent rains, and I can sense the deeper promise of spring, more certain to be fulfilled than the promise of a particular sunset.
Just after I let go into serenity—content with the beauty and challenge of the moment—the grey horizon parts. Intense orange begins to play on the clouds after all, mirrored by the still lake, becoming one of the finest sunsets in recent memory. I’m grateful to still have memory.
The sunset mirrors my own life and others, in how our living colors unfold. So often, it’s only after releasing attachment to an outcome that its promise is fulfilled. Usually it’s only fulfilled when we keep doing our daily work, regardless of outcome, with faith and intentions of service. We have to make ongoing effort to be where magic may unfold, to occasionally experience it.
That mirrors how I came to be part of the Celebrate What’s Right with the World project. I was introduced to Dewitt Jones’s work by a photographer friend, soon after I survived cancer in my early thirties. Dewitt’s vision inspired me, because it wasn’t as much about mastery of technique as it was about experience, wonder, and reverence. His work illuminated the importance of witnessing and celebrating beauty—not just in the majesty of sky and landscape, but in human soul.
I spent the next decade developing my parallel vision, including my book Wild Grace: Nature as a Spiritual Path. I attached myself too tightly to the goal of having a column next to Dewitt’s in Outdoor Photographer magazine. But that was his path, not mine. I soon let go of that unattained goal, and continued to do my work as Wild Grace found its way around the world.
After a few years of writing for the nature journal Whisper in the Woods, I opened my new issue to find a column by Dewitt next to mine. Beyond letting go, my goal was realized. I laughed and told my editor the story. She connected me with Dewitt, so I could tell him the story myself. Soon I was on Molokai with him, accepting his invitation to create together in celebration.
Another decade has already passed. For ten years now, I’ve had the honor and pleasure of this shared commitment to celebration. It’s beautiful, to have deadlines for celebration. The discipline of always finding something new to celebrate—regardless of events and emotions—ensures my focus on that practical practice. Celebration has merged with gratitude, becoming my service to family and community, becoming my forthcoming book Grateful by Nature, becoming my reason for daily rising early in case dawn is finally magic too.
I’ve only missed one deadline in ten years. That was recently, in the pain of my caregiving role, during my mother’s physical falls and decline into dementia. There was still plenty to celebrate, then and now. There just wasn’t time to write about it. I had too much letting go to do, especially around the shattered goal of having my mother in her own home, next door to me, until the day of her passing. That too is only a harbinger of a deeper letting go soon ahead.
Again the mirror expands. On human horizons, arriving clouds are a storm harbinger as well. Societal thunder threatens everything: climate, civility, democracy, intimacy, economy, health. Celebration and gratitude will be threatened too, if we leave them to starve—if we don’t view them as the daily work that takes us where magic is yet a possibility.
In my decade of dedicated celebration, I’ve come to see that its practice is what allows us to reach the breakthroughs beyond breakdown. It’s insight into each other’s good despite our flaws. It’s a connection to compassion; to seeing our shared humanity beyond divisiveness. Celebration and gratitude are deep healing medicine, in a time of illness tainting soul and soil. They’re the inspiration that motivates my perspiration. They’re why I’m writing this at 5 a.m., though turbulent clouds thunder inside and beyond.
Beyond letting go of my perceptions of breakdown, I feel the mirror of celebration expand to contain time itself. Anxieties about breakdown are not new to the universe, nor even to this tiny planet, in this tiny moment. They’re certainly not new to me.
Somehow the essence of life force has survived every extinction and holocaust, every foolish act and painful injustice. Somehow dawn is beginning to arrive on time now, exactly when I have time to set down my worries for a moment, pour one more cup of coffee, and keep the view of light’s beauty and persistence. Dawn is magic once more, beyond letting go.