Meghan O'Rourke
Photo: Hannah Whitaker
Like many people, I am held in the grip of contradictory desires. I want serenity in my day-to-day life, yet I'm obsessive enough about the smallest details that a moment of calm is hard to find. In my 20s, I worked as if focus could be some kind of salvation, endlessly worrying about my next project and missing family gatherings and forgetting to buy Christmas presents in the process. Once, when I managed to make it home for a visit, my mother, who had her bird-watching books out, put her hand on my arm and said, "I don't want you just to go from hill to hill, Meg. You should stop to enjoy the view."

After my mother died, at the age of 55, I thought a lot about what she'd said, and I came to realize she'd given me an important gift: her presence. As my father put it one night when we were talking, "Your mother just had a way of being there, and it made everything better." Listening to him, I knew I wanted more of that "way of being there" in my own life.

Losing my mother three years ago—as painful as it was—has brought with it a blessing I could not have anticipated. It has led me to realign my sense of focus, my values, my attention. "Lighten up, Meg," my mother liked to say when she saw how easily I became blindsided by anxiety. Now I try to honor her example by learning to relax into the daily chaos, by keeping in mind the majestic strangeness of the world, and the smallness of my place in it. One blustery winter day I found myself thinking, Bitterly cold? Yes—but the way the sun radiates off the new snow on the cars is an urban beauty I've become used to not noticing.

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