My mother was a child when Frank Capra’s “Lost Horizon” (based on the 1933 book by James Hilton), hit the movie theaters in 1937. In it, Shangri-La was introduced as this marvelous place where there is no conflict (“Be Kind” was the golden rule), and you pretty much could pursue your bliss, which in turn keeps you young. For someone with a curious mind, it was like being a kid in a candy store.
Recently I came to the realization that my mom had created her own Shangri-La in the form of a rejuvenating nighttime ritual that fed her daytime activities. And those activities were very well balanced in a three-legged stool sort of way - between family and her professional obligations with the third leg being that which gave her joy (and where she most likely lost sense of time): gardening, bird watching, discovering (and clipping) recipes, baking, and lots of wordplay (poetry and original stories).
Indeed, she created an elixir that worked for her. I never asked, but I’m pretty certain she didn’t grind her teeth at night like most of us.
Like John Steinbeck’s description of Ed Ricketts, my mom’s mind had no horizons. And also, like Ricketts, everyone near her was influenced deeply and permanently. As a columnist, a reporter and public relations professional, her job was gathering, organizing and disseminating information – choosing words that were memorable and properly tailored for her readers. In fact, she took pride in her craft, “wordsmith,” and even had an owl with a pencil behind its ear as her mascot.
Being great with words is one thing, engaging her curious mind to find interesting stories was something she absolutely excelled at. She, like the children mentioned in “The Little Prince,” was the one flattening her nose against the window of the train – looking and wondering.
Her reading fed her writing like a wellspring too. And here’s the interesting thing. She wasn’t into “How-to” or “Self Help” types of books, nor biographies. It wasn’t necessarily literature (think Steinbeck, Jack London, etc.) that fed /refueled her mind either. Rather, her elixir was in the form of page-turner mysteries and suspense novels.
And, as Apple’s Steve Jobs was often heard saying, "There’s more." When all was read and done, she settled into games of solitaire on the computer (and eventually her Kindle). Step back and think about that for a moment…
Played by one person, the object is to use up all one's cards by forming particular arrangements and sequences.
So, in essence, she ended her evening putting things in order, right?
It may also be true that her joy of grocery shopping had to do with going up and down aisles wide-eyed, taking in the orderliness of the products on display. Admittedly for most of us, running to the store is a “To Do” task and nothing more. Again, this was an essential ingredient in her elixir.
Enrapture is a great word: Delight beyond measure. She managed to carry that with her in all three aspects of her waking moments – leading to an incredible dynamic exchange (giving and receiving) in the form of an earthly trinity that matched the heavenly: Creative idea, Creative Energy [or activity] begotten of that idea; and Creative Power, the meaning of the work and its response in the lively soul.
A flow, pure and simple, that creates smile-inducing, Snoopy-dancing happiness. She figured it out and it served her well.
Here’s my hope we all find our Shangri-La.
ED. NOTE: Annie Gladue-Latham is the daughter of Skip Gladue who was the Cape May County Herald's correspondent on the Seven Mile Beach. Her weekly column of community news touched upon the heartbeat of its residents and was a must-read for over 15 years.