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Comfort zones (10/14/2007)
By Janet Lewis Burns
"For it is not physical solitude that actually separates one from other men, not physical isolation, but spiritual isolation" - Anne Morrow Lindbergh

From the embryonic euphoria of the maternal womb, a baby immediately seeks nourishment. The bundle of joy nuzzles against a mother's warm embrace, and in time may reach for the soft and soothing comfort of a favored "blankie". Well into childhood a thumb is sometimes an ideal pacifier.

For a young child there usually is, in an ideal situation, security in the family circle, which offers a loving and safe haven. A teen hangs out with buddies and classmates to establish a sense of belonging and a "friends forever" bond, and perhaps the "first love" experience.

Young adults usually center their goals and pursuits around their marriage, children, and a career choice. In mid-life, one often experiences a crisis of questioning, restlessness, and soul searching. A bit of wanderlust may set in, sometimes testing the bonds of a marriage. The elderly break through the barriers of conventional behavior, uninhibited, and rest on their laurels. Their security "blankie" is the peace of mind that comes with complete openness and shedding excess baggage.

These brief outlines of life's comfort zones describe merely one faction of an entire human race. A wise person recognizes not one sole "universal truth", but acknowledges many and diverse ways of living and believing throughout the realms of man. Can one escape reality when reality is all around us? The more one is exposed to, and gets out into the greater world, the more insignificant individuality becomes.

Personal comfort zones can be altered greatly, depending on circumstances. Consider a person flung into the ravages of war to serve his or her country. One can only imagine how such an experience impacts a life and a family. A lonely, emotionally and physically drained soldier takes an idle moment to read a letter from home and to bring out the cheery photo of family for a glimmer of hope in an uncertain future.

For someone who develops an extremely painful bone cancer, where relief must come from strong, invasive drugs, comfort for this stricken person is merely temporary freedom from pain. People blind from birth who can suddenly see are terrified and overwhelmed. Some even desire to return to the serenity of their dark, yet familiar world.

One's get-away havens are timely, age friendly, and territorial. The individual isn't always conscious of a special refuge until it is no longer. A child may discover, as he ages, that the most sheltering place had once been Grandpa's lap. A stressed-out person may find solace in the quiet reverence of a random church. A shy child hides behind her mother's skirt when spoken to.

Nature writer Annie Dillard lived beside a creek in a valley in Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains as she compiled "Pilgrim At Tinker Creek", c1974, that won the Pulitzer Prize. I often return to her vast sea of knowledge in the comfort of my sporadic prolific moments. As with time spent in a forest, I always come away with a gift.

Dillard's comfort zones seem to be teeming with life! "I am sitting under a sycamore by Tinker Creek," she writes. "I am really here, alive on the intricate earth under trees. But under me, directly under the weight of my body on the grass, are other creatures, just as real"¦" "In the top inch of forest soil, biologists found an average of 1,356 living creatures present in each square foot"¦" In the final chapter of "Tinker Creek", Dillard sings her praises to the place that inspired her to write so brilliantly. She said, ""¦beauty is not a hoax - how many days have I learned not to stare at the back of my hand when I could look out at the creek."

Happy trails!

Janet Lewis Burns lives in Lewiston. She can be reached at patandjanburns@embarqmail.com.  


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