Valley Voices

Carol Lawson-Swezey: Holiday season is perfect time to open up your heart

Carol Lawson-Swezey
Carol Lawson-Swezey

Inexplicable, mysterious ailments and numerous medical appointments have forced me to shine a harsh light on my own immortality. At the ripened age of 63, I have come to accept that my days are numbered and that there is no guarantee of another tomorrow.

I also have accepted that there is no time like the present to open your heart.

Another lifetime ago, when I was in the nursing program at Fresno State (which I never completed), we learned an invaluable lesson that I’ve had to periodically reinforce time and again. There are few things that people regret doing but many that they regret not doing. Among those are tying up loose ends like forgiving and expressing love and gratitude.

When I was younger, I was much more averse to opening my heart and leaving myself vulnerable, but now I wear my shredded heart on my tattered sleeve with pride.

There are far worse things than being naked and vulnerable in spirit. Being aware of those deep and passionate emotions just barely throbbing at the surface makes me more willing to share, knowing what I must and need to do. As I come closer to the finite part of life, I am overwhelmed at the abundance of my blessings – too many to enumerate. So here are just a few on my gratitude list.

▪ For my all too human and fallible parents. I learned love of country and the sacredness of the written word, to be fierce and protective of what you love and to never, ever give up.

▪ For my virtuous and noble husband, upon whom my life is divided between the emptiness before and the fullness of my knowing him.

▪ For my sons, strong and good, generous and noble. I never knew what selfless love was until I held your tiny bodies in my trembling arms.

▪ To all the teachers who taught me love of exploration and the power of words. Words which can enlighten, ennoble and slay dragons, among them my sixth-grade English teacher and Dayle Molen, my journalism professor at Fresno State.

I am grateful for the disappointments and many detours in my life. For the rugged patches and the soaring moments of bliss through the blessings of others. I am so thankful for the few but wonderful friends I have had, who are not only dear comrades and sisters from another mother, but human beings, full of purpose, generosity and integrity. I am honored and humbled to walk alongside them.

I cannot in truth say that I would not feel cheated if I didn’t wake up tomorrow or found out that all those aches and pains had a malignant host. I have so much more I want to do.

I want to see my children fall in love, get married and have children themselves. I want to learn how to quilt, paint and write a few more stories to illuminate the joy that I sense constantly lies beneath the human spirit.

During a recent visit to the coast, I sat in the early morning darkness of my tiny hotel balcony and watched the world enfold around me. The traffic became heavy on the main road, someone in the next room opened the window and unfurled all the harsh news bellowing on the morning television. But the beauty of the world still enveloped me.

A myriad of birds swarmed the lightening sky, sparrows and black birds, sea gulls and pelicans. Across the way, a condominium of hummingbirds madly chattered in a large bottlebrush tree, the leaves rustling with their unrest.

I saw the sunrise trying valiantly to work its way through the darkened clouds. Slowly a crimson sun rose triumphantly over the horizon. I raised my arms high, spreading out my wings, and said silently over and over, remembering a childhood verse I had read to my sons, “Thank you God for each new day you give to me.”

And then it happened, a swift rustling of wings, and a hummingbird flew rapidly by the bushes in front of me. First one and then another. I knew it was not a coincidence. They were strong and fierce, their hearts and wings flush with high octane energy – much like my mom. Years after she died, every time I saw one, I knew somehow she was near.

I sat quietly and another one flew by. This time it hovered nearby, close enough that I could feel the flutter of its beating wings. I caught and held my breath, hoping the moment would never end. But too soon, the moment and the bird were gone.

But afterward, I could almost hear my mom saying, in her broken English, never quite improved by living in this adopted country, “It’s OK, Babychun, I am watching over you.”

Carol Lawson-Swezey is a volunteer coordinator for Hinds Hospice and a freelance writer. Write to her at