Van Gogh and Hope

Did the Impressionist Movement only give us artistic masterpieces and inspire other artists for years to come? Please note I use the word “only” loosely. My answer would be an emphatic NO. These artists also gave and continue to give us hope.

Vincent van Gogh may not initially stand out as a hopeful figure. He struggled with both his mental and physical health. His most famous paintings will always be his main contribution to the world. Starry Night is one of my favorites.

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Van Gogh painted Starry Night in 1889 during his stay in an asylum near Saint-Rémy-de-Provence.

Today’s post combines my love for inspiring quotes with blogging. Lately, I’ve come across several quotes from Van Gogh that have blown me away. I do not know in what context he said them or really if they were significant to him at all. I tend to believe they were significant to him based upon their content and some of his paintings. These are some of his words that have inspired me.

“Be clearly aware of the stars and infinity on high. Then life seems almost enchanted after all.”  ~ Vincent van Gogh

Life is enchanted. It’s easy to get wrapped up in its day-to-day minutia. There’s a repeating cycle of laundry, groceries, cleaning, yard work, and for me, medical appointments. The time I spend trying to live well with cancer feels so far away from noticing moments of infinity on high. There is always something health related even if it’s a little something. Daily medications are a good example. I see my port bumping out from my chest every day. My wig. These all are routine things but constant reminders of how my life is different. Making time to recognize and take in infinity is a must because it provides balance and perspective to life in my medical world.

It also sometimes feels like everyone is so focused on their own lives that moments where we interact with one another in meaningful ways are fleeting. Stores are understaffed. Customer service has all but disappeared in some businesses. Friends are in a rush. I treasure time with them. Social media, texts, and emojis replace conversations. Living life through social media is not very enchanting. I live in this world, too. Emojis are quick, effective, and sometimes highly amusing.

Looking up at the stars reminds me how big the universe is and that all my big problems are really small. People don’t make time to gaze at the stars and wonder anymore. Unless you live in the countryside far away from man-made light, getting to see a true starry night where shooting stars are common and a person can witness infinity on high is hard. City stars are not the same as country stars. I remember a geography course for graduate credit I took in Ecuador around the year 2000. It was in the jungles off of the Napo River where darkness closed in all around me where I saw the best starscape of my life. Utter darkness met me in every direction except upwards. Stars bedazzled the dark above. I only took them in for a few minutes because we were encouraged not to stay outside very long in the blackness for our own protection. Large cats stalked unseen and unheard in the night. Yet, for a few sacred moments, I saw the heavens like never before. It stays with me as a singular moment I’ll remember forever.

“I confess I do not know why, but looking at the stars always makes me dream.” ~ Vincent van Gogh

Dreams give us hope. We wish upon stars. Stars awe us. Songs are sung wondering what they are made of and comparing them to diamonds. My dad sang Twinkle Twinkle Little Star nightly to me. Starshine has always mesmerized me. If light from stars can travel trillions of miles to reach us, then can’t we also believe our dreams may come true? Can I wish to live? Can I wish to be completely healthy again? So often when we dream while sleeping, we don’t remember what we dreamt when we wake up. We can control what we dream when looking at stars and dream of what makes us happy.

Did Van Gogh say these statements before or after he painted his masterpiece? I don’t know. It doesn’t matter to me. It is more than enough that he said them because it makes me look at my favorite painting of his with more wonder and awe. I work hard to wonder and awe about life as much as possible as someone with metastatic breast cancer.

“If you hear a voice within you say you cannot paint, then by all means paint and that voice will be silenced.”   ~ Vincent van Gogh

 

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My attempt to create a Ukrainian egg in the style of Van Gogh.

Am I a painter? No. I am confident there would be voices other than an inner voice confirming it. Even so, I do believe in doing the thing I think I can’t do. I do plenty of new things (new hikes, bike paths, foods, small risks). I do plenty of hard things (conflict, scans, side effects, funerals). I think Van Gogh was thinking about all the opportunities we don’t pursue because we convince ourselves we can’t for any number of reasons. The negative inner voice is quelled when I take a NO and turn it into a YES. Maybe this quote of his is telling me is I should give painting more of a try. I’m up for finger painting. The swirls of color would feel so Van Gogh.

“Close friends are truly life’s treasures. Sometimes they know us better than we know ourselves. With gentle honesty, they are there to guide and support us, to share our laughter and our tears. Their presence reminds us that we are never really alone.”   ~ Vincent van Gogh

And . . .

“I wish they would take me as I am.”    ~ Vincent van Gogh
 

Friends take us as we are. Those who don’t are not friends or worth the trouble. My need to belong has always caused me anxiety. There are still times when I feel left out. Like Vincent, I wish everyone would take me as I am. I wish I could be okay with it when some don’t. The people who don’t aren’t worth my time. I’m reminded I only need to belong to myself.

“I think that I still have it in my heart someday to paint a bookshop with the front yellow and pink in the evening…like a light in the midst of the darkness.”   ~ Vincent van Gogh

Why a bookshop? He could have said a flower shop, a café, a market, a boutique, or any number of storefronts could be yellow and pink in the evening. Van Gogh also spoke of light. Reading is light. It gives joy, knowledge, and self-awareness. Reading can be a source of hope. Light is hope. Once again, I return to ideas of stars being the light in the midst of darkness. Books are like stars. Books shine light in the midst of darkness.

“Many people seem to think it foolish, even superstitious, to believe that the world could still change for the better. And it is true that in winter it is sometimes so bitingly cold that one is tempted to say, ‘What do I care if there is a summer; its warmth is no help to me now.’ Yes, evil often seems to surpass good. But then, in spite of us, and without our permission, there comes, at last, an end to the bitter frosts. One morning the wind turns, and there is a thaw. And so I must still have hope.”    ~ Vincent van Gogh

Call me foolish for I am one of those people who believes that the world can still change for the better. There is more goodness in the world than badness. There will always be more heroes than villains.

Springs and summers follow the coldest winters. Having said that, spring sure took its sweet time this year.

I must have hope. I must maintain hope that treatments are discovered in time to save me, to save everyone with cancer. I believe in targeted therapies that are matched to patients who have a strong likelihood of responding well to those treatments. More research is needed to develop more of these. Research equals hope. Hope is my driving force and motivation in advocating for more research directed to treatments for advanced stage cancers. I do my best to stay strong and healthy which feeds my hope. I do what I can to financially support research for metastatic breast cancer. I still have hope.

Van Gogh has said he wanted his work to express “sincere human feeling.” He succeeded many times over and over again. Hope is a kind of feeling that warms, intensifies, and empowers. How he captured this quality in his art so that it still evokes such an emotional response over a hundred years later is a mystery to me. He had an extraordinary gift as an artist. His art and words continue to give hope.

Immense and everlasting hope.

Laughter As Medicine

“The earth laughs in flowers.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

We need friends and laughter like we need sunshine, rain, and flowers. Today’s post combines all of these.

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My friends are beautiful flowers who fill the world with laughter. Sometimes we laugh together and other times we laugh at one another.

Some of my friends are comical without trying. Fran is one such friend. I spent a lovely day with her and another dear friend Gayle at a garden last summer. Both make the earth laugh in flowers. Being together at a garden was a perfect choice. It was a beautiful summer day, punctuated with an isolated downpour that was brief but heavy. The three of us had been sitting in a little secluded resting spot, taking a break as we visited. We’d discovered an alcove up a short stone path of a few stairs with three Adirondack chairs positioned just for us. A canopy of green leaves kept us shaded and let just enough light to be filtered through to turn the leaves into shining emeralds. Behind us water gurgled its way in a peaceful stream. Life was but a dream. The setting couldn’t have been more idyllic. Fran regaled us with a humorous story about her mother.

It started to sprinkle and we all figured it would pass over quickly. The trees kept us from getting wet. However, when it didn’t stop in a couple of minutes and was getting worse with every drop, Gayle and I decided we wanted to take cover and headed to a covered shelter we had passed about a minute away at the bottom of the trail. Gayle got there first. I was a bit slower. The stone walkway was getting slick. The raindrops were getting much bigger and frequent, but I couldn’t risk running and slipping. I only had about ten more yards to go. I just made it as the sky let loose with a pounding rain that was worthy of flash flooding. Gayle and I were safe and mostly dry.

Where was Fran? Gayle and I stood and waited. We thought Fran was directly behind us. The shelter filled quickly with others, but no Fran. She couldn’t possibly be waiting it out. Another minute passed and finally there came Fran, slowly making her way down the stone staircase, step by step, toward the shelter. I was glad to see her even though she was already pretty wet. However, at the last moment, Fran darted to her left on a path off to the side. A row of trees blocked her movements. There was nothing in that direction, nowhere to go! What was she doing? I wasn’t going looking for her. Gayle wasn’t either. We were dry.

It’s as close to a Yeti sighting as I’ll ever get. One minute something incredible and unexpected was spotted, and the next minute it was gone with no proof of it ever existing. It’s both a moment frozen and lost forever in time.

I shouted out, “Fran, are you okay?”

Several seconds passed slowly.

“Yes,” came her eventual reply.

She sounded close, but wherever she was, she stayed put. Why?

A couple of minutes later Fran emerged on the path again. It seemed wherever she thought was a refuge, was not a safe haven at all. Sheets of rain showed no sign of relenting. At last she made it to the shelter. Time stood still while she made her way for the final ten or twenty yards. All eyes were on her. It was impossible not to feel sympathy for her. While that was true, it also was impossible not to find it funny. The heavy rain still pelted everything in its way. Gusts of wind blew the rain sideways, and as it happened directly at Fran.

Fran was completely drenched. She could not have been wetter had she been plucked from the ocean after falling overboard. It was so sad, but beyond funny. All I could do was shake my head from side to side as I repeated the word “No” over and over as I laughed unapologetically. It was hard to breathe. Fran stood there wringing out her clothes. Her wardrobe had surprising sponge-like qualities. She dripped. A lot. Fran tried to brush the whole thing off. All the dripping and puddles around her told a different story. Gayle whipped out her phone to capture the moment as a truly good friend naturally would, but didn’t get the shot after all. Such a pity.

Fran never really explained why she wasn’t following us or included a detour in her plans. I’ve never asked for an explanation. Somehow I think it would ruin the story if she explained her perspective. The sun came out, we regrouped at my car where I had some towels, and we moved on with our day.

That Fran.

Laughter really is the best medicine. Antibiotics can also be the best medicine. Laughter isn’t going to combat a bacterial infection. Antibiotics will do the trick there. I believe laughter is going to help in any cancer treatment plan because it will help lift spirits during dark days. But laughter does more than simply boost spirits. Laughing can reduce stress and anxiety. It’s been called a natural anti-depressant. Endorphins are released so you feel good. They even are said to relieve pain. Immune system functioning is heightened. Laughing has been linked to a healthier heart and increased levels of HDL (the good cholesterol). It can even tone your abs and that’s no laughing matter. I can handle less stress and anxiety. Feeling good inside with better immune system functioning while getting the benefits of a free ab workout works for me. All of these are incredibly healthy benefits from laughing.

Flowers do more than add color, fragrance, and beauty to the world. I believe they also have health benefits. “People flowers” make us laugh. They help us heal. I am lucky to have wonderful such flowers in my life. I’m not just keeping them around for my abs. I’m keeping them around because I love them and they are good medicine.

What makes you laugh? Who makes you laugh?

Finding Hope

There are 26 places named Hope in the United States, ranging from Wisconsin to Mississippi, and from Alaska to New York. Hope is on the map in several European countries, and even farther away in Pakistan, South Africa, and New Zealand. There are a total of 50 cities throughout the world named Hope.

But you don’t have to travel to any of them in order to find hope. Likely, you would find some there if you did, because hope is everywhere. You just need to know where to look and be really good at keeping it when you find it.

Hope is plentiful. It can be found in every smile, the water, and in the air. Unfortunately, hope can also be elusive when it’s most needed. Below are ideas of some of the expected and unexpected sources where I have found it. As you read the ideas below, I encourage you to identify a strong example of each that resonates with you.

  • Family: These are the people who know you best and have your best interests at heart. Choose the family members that have always given that unconditional support. My grandma was always a source of comfort and support. I loved holding her wrinkled, beautiful, and amazing hand. She wouldn’t even have to say anything. Just looking at the miracle of a woman in her upper nineties who had lived a remarkable life made me feel hopeful. Memories of her words and actions still echo wisdom, warmth, humor, and hope.
  • Friends: I know some of my friends will be there through thick and thin. When the chips are down, true friends are the ones who show up. I can be myself even if I’m feeling tired, down, unwell, or a little grumpy. They are givers and they lift me up. We have the stupidest jokes that we still think are funny. These are the friends that keep me hopeful.
  • Strangers: How strange! But every once in a while you will cross paths with someone who says exactly what you need to hear at exactly the right time. Family and friends cannot always do this. These strangers come in and out of my life in a flash, but they often say or do something that has a lasting impact. Maybe it’s a tweet I read or a comment I overhear. Perhaps it is something said directly to me. It could even be a small act of random kindness.
  • Faith: Maybe you get hope from going to church, temple, a mosque, or some other physical building. Maybe it’s through prayer, reading scriptures, or through sharing your faith with others. Feeling a spiritual presence creates strong feelings of hope. It’s different for everyone, but I believe we all believe in something, and that something is the faith needed to lift us up when we need help standing.
  • Fitness: I often find my spirits are raised when I’ve gone for a walk or I’ve spent time hiking or biking. When I achieve something that I couldn’t do before, it makes me feel confident, believe in myself, and be more hopeful. I think the endorphin release that goes along with exercise not only contributes to happiness, but also hopefulness. It was an invigorating 27° F the other day and being outside walking really made a positive difference to my day. When I’m happier, I naturally feel more hopeful.
  • Nature: See fitness. But also just being in nature and listening to the stillness or surrounding sounds can make a person feel happier and more hopeful. More and more people are finding health benefits when spending time in nature. These are physical, emotional, and spiritual benefits. Feeling hopeful definitely is part of one’s emotional health. Give me trees!
  • Meditating: Find the best way to meditate for you. It can be completely focusing on your breath in total silence. It can be a guided meditation. Music, nature, yoga, other fitness, and prayer all have potential for meditative practice.
  • Books and Movies: Both are great sources for telling stories of hope. Find what appeals to your individual tastes and interests. There are far too many possibilities for me to even make recommendations. What a fun book club idea it would be for readers to bring books or titles that have nurtured feelings of hope and then swap them with one another.
  • Music: Here is another place where you have to find the right fit. Aaron Copeland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man” always has been an incredible piece filled with hope and possibilities. Edvard Grieg’s “Morning Mood” is another good one where you actually can see the moments in the song when the sun rises above the horizon to greet a new day with hope.
  • Art: Nature photography and pictures where I feel I can walk into the scene give me hope. I’m not sure what it is, but I think it has something to do with my thoughts while enjoying these types of art. Most of the cards I send actually are crafted from my own photos from nature. I find them visually pleasing and love sending them.
  • Science: Yep, it surprises me a bit too, but science holds future cures for diseases. Hope and science should not be separated. Researchers don’t live in isolated worlds of facts. They are inherently hopeful that what they theorize, what they believe, will become fact. Their ideas are rooted in curiosity, wondering, possibility, and hope. Hope works through science. My medicines are infused with hope. It’s one of the side effects I don’t mind experiencing.
  • Self: When you get really quiet, when you dig deep into yourself, you will find your answers and the hope you need. You know what works best for you. Blogging is a way for me to express my hopeful thoughts to others. A journal may be an excellent way to explore your inner most thoughts in a manner that allows you to reflect back on thoughts. The place where hope must absolutely be kept is within your heart. Hope is a little bit like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz when she discovers there’s no place like home. Hope has been there within each of us all along. From time to time we need reminders. We need to know how to nurture it.

Hope is an essential part of a Stage V mindset.

If you have chosen to ignore a timeline provided by medicine and wake up each and every day choosing to live relentlessly, you understand.

If you believe in science that will prevent cancer cells from mutating or becoming treatment resistant, you understand.

If you believe in immunotherapy as the future of cancer cures and treatments, you understand.

If you believe that life is good and that your actions, beliefs, and the strong voice you speak defines hope, you understand.

If you believe in remission, in positive energy, and in hope, you understand.

You’d also be right.

Stay hopeful.

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We all need hope. Please share any ideas about hope so we all can benefit. If you are enjoying reading these posts, please consider officially following through your WordPress account or with your email address. Click on the gray “follow” tab in the bottom right hand corner and follow the prompts if interested in following as an email subscriber. Thanks for reading!