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Of all the qualities I admire, none matters more to me than courage, and I kept telling myself that I needed the courage to remake my life, whether or not I wanted to. Then one morning, the paper that came with my room-service breakfast offered a saving thought: Courage is the power to let go of the familiar. Buttressed with that redefinition, I began to change my life.

I started picturing a white room, a room that contained no history, a room devoid of posters from places I would just have soon not have visited, no paintings etched on glass that I should not have bought—a place where the past could be sloughed off.

We get what we need, and soon that white room materialized. It was on the beach, where I could gaze out my window and see before me only sand and sea and sky, where I could nourish a small garden of Mexican bush sage and Iceberg roses, and where the sunset turned the benign blue sky to ferocious golds and purples.

"No one turns their life upside down to look at a sunset," the man I'd lived with said to me. But what I had done was not frivolous. This nearness to the natural world was an antidote to my abiding disappointment. Day by day, it soothed me, it strengthened me, until it had redeemed my spirit, my sense of hope. It has been three years now since I came here, long enough to know that I did what I needed to do—that in this, our only life, our primary obligation is to respond to those needs that are as basic as oxygen, as fundamental as air.

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