The Instruments of Comfort
Seeking comfort is a natural response when we hurt. As a kid, my comfort was found in my mother’s arms and in her sympathetic responses. I ran to them when I skinned a knee, or when a neighbor boy frightened me with ugly words that I didn’t understand. I ran to them when I lied and said what I thought I should say instead of the truth and felt the unfamiliar panic of being trapped by a lie. She comforted me…with a band-aid, a soft reproach for the mean boy, or an understanding yet serious discussion about the importance of telling the truth. Mom was my comfort. Her memory and my gratitude for her still are.
As a teenager, working through the bewildering territory of growing up, I found comfort in my friends, who were going through it all too, right beside me. And in music. Music became my very best friend, my most reliable and accessible friend. Music was always available. Hanging out with her never required me to compromise or be untrue to myself. Sometimes she carried me away from my little world to an unfamiliar place where I explored new ideas and thought new thoughts. Sometimes she echoed my thoughts through new expressions of words and notes that rang truer than my own limited experience of the world. Sometimes she turned my head inside out so I could see things from that perspective for a while. Sometimes she lulled me to sleep and to dream and to wake up not remembering why I sought her company in the first place. Music was and will always be a comfort to me.
When I moved to the Pacific Northwest as a young wife, I missed my family. It was lonely. I looked for comfort in my new surroundings. The huge trees and soaring mountains and wildlife spoke to me of permanence and abundance and longevity. There was wilderness here, and it felt incredibly vast and pristine compared to the overdeveloped and fouled beaches, rivers and towns I left behind. My heart would leap up at the sight of a whale, a bald eagle, an elk, a deer, things that were in short supply or non-existent where I grew up. I fell deeply in love with wild things and wild places. My feet and my heart sought solitude in soft paths beneath fragrant towering forests, in cool sands and lonely stretches of beach, and on rocky trails winding through windswept mountains. The immensity and impunity of Nature comforted me. She still does.
I’ve lived away from my family most of my adult life, so the phone has been an instrument of comfort for me. When I had a problem that required soothing, my father had a way of speaking, a tone of voice, that offered comfort in a long distance phone call. When my father passed away, my sister became the greatest source of comfort I could find. She knew what I was feeling. She was feeling it too, because she was also his daughter. My brothers’ losses were different. They were his sons. And my mother’s loss was inscrutable to me. But Judy knew. She was my comfort. And now that Mom is gone and Judy is the only other female in the family, being around her is a source of comfort and connection that no one else can give me.
In the dark days after 9/11 life held little comfort for any of us. CNN offered connection to the tragedy, twenty four hours a day, but no comfort. Sitting in my house in the woods, under the eerily quiet skies just west of Sea Tac Airport, I sought comfort once again in the sound of my families voices. One evening I was on the phone with my brother Phil. We were both pretty numb. Pretty shaky. We had both been consuming copious amounts of media coverage of the recovery efforts going on in New York City. As we were talking in voices usually reserved for funerals and hospital rooms, I heard the soft whine of a jet overhead. I stepped outside and looked up to see the lights of an aircraft far above. There was something about the normality of that moment that brought a measure of comfort to my broken heart. A return to normal after a tragedy does bring comfort. The movement back into the stream of human activity that we are accustomed to isn’t a cure, but it is a comfort in a world that feels alien and unkind. Something as innocuous as the whine of a jet engine can break the spell, at least for a moment, and offer comfort at the unlikeliest of times.
These things have brought comfort to me in my life. Family, friendship, music, nature. Comfort in a phone call. Comfort on a CD. Comfort in the constant rhythm of the ocean and in the substantive beauty of the mountains. Comfort in the stories we repeat in the company of friends and family. Comfort in the familiar routine.
And there are these: Prayer. Belief. Love. Hope. The instruments of faith that offer comfort in a comfortless world. More and more, as the world seems to want to push us further and further away from the sense of security we require, these things become the precious instruments of comfort we can seek out and sink into and share with each other. We can surround ourselves, and those we love, with them.
Your instruments of comfort, whatever they are–May you have them, and have them abundantly.