Smooth Seas Do Not Make Skillful Sailors

My mother is 83 years old and incapacitated by Parkinson’s disease. Unable to walk, she is marooned in her electric recliner chair.

She wears an alert necklace in the event of a fall or emergency. Assisted living professionals help with her bathroom and showering needs.

My mother has a lot of reasons to complain. Eating is difficult. Even picking up the phone is an effort.

But she never complains. She focuses on her family. Her cat. Books. Her love of politics.

And most importantly? Dessert.

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Life may have its indignities, but in my mother’s view, that should never get in the way of a good dessert. Or two.

“Dessert is probably the most important stage of the meal, since it will be the last thing your guests remember before they pass out all over the table.” — William Powell

Whatever the family gathering or holiday occasion, Mom is always game for a good time. Followed by coffee and dessert.

Live life artfully

There is a way to live life artfully, and my mother has figured it out. She insists on dressing fashionably. Vibrant colors, necklaces and jewelry. All coordinated to great effect. My father in law calls her “the trinket lady.”

Despite her physical condition, Mom greets each day with a laugh and flair for personal expression. In both her clothing, joy of conversation and zest for sweets.

A positive attitude goes a long way towards artful living.

A positive attitude is not going to save you. What it’s going to do is, everyday, between now and the day you die, whether that’s a short time from now or a long time from now, that every day, you’re going to actually live. — Elizabeth Edwards

When I truly take the time to observe, I see people all around me living artfully. Like the elderly gentleman I greet at Starbucks. He’s clearly retired and yet he dresses snappily. There’s a glint in his eye and a dignity about him. He holds court with a few buddies and fellow patrons. He’s living life artfully.

When I was in Ireland, I saw people all around me living artfully. Musicians and singers in the pubs. The townspeople dressed in beautiful tweed coats and carrying leather satchels.

Almost all the buildings and homes I walked by were adorned by colorful flowers. Just everyday people celebrating beauty. Living artfully.

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When I retired last December after 26 years in law enforcement, my wife wanted to do something artful to pay tribute to my career and profession. So she took one of my old service boots and transformed it into a beautiful door display, complete with flowers and a blue ribbon.

My wife is definitely living life artfully.

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Smooth Seas Do Not Make Skillful Sailors

There’s an African proverb that says, “Smooth seas do not make skillful sailors.” It’s the hard knocks in life that soften out our rough edges. Shape us into something more refined and resilient.

Austrian psychiatrist, neurologist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl had this to say:

“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”

All of us have the capacity to shape our perspective and attitude. My mother does that. Unable to change her physical condition, she focuses on other aspects of her life. Other areas where she can experience joy.

My mother has navigated some rough personal seas. The body that is her vessel has been knocked about. But she has emerged a skillful sailor. A sailor who knows what it is to endure the typhoons and crashing waves of life.

She perseveres, and lives with style and grace.

“Permanence, perseverance and persistence in spite of all obstacles, discouragements, and impossibilities: It is this, that in all things distinguishes the strong soul from the weak.” — Thomas Carlyle

No doubt, there are some rough seas in your life. Family troubles. Work problems. Perhaps your art or creative passion is stalled at the moment.

All I can say is that the trials and tribulations will pass. If you stay strong and find ways to live artfully, you’ll emerge for the better. You’ll be stronger. More resilient and wise.

Along the way, as you find your path to calmer waters, steal a page from my mother’s playbook.

Laugh a bit more, dress like you mean it, and by all mean, enjoy a little dessert now and then!

About the author

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I’m John P. Weiss. I paint, draw cartoons and write articles about life. Thanks for reading!

(This article was originally published at

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