The words were a line across the bottom half of a gravestone one row over. The cemetary was a short drive from where my grandmother had built for the setting-sun years of her life; it was Father's day, and this year I came along. In respectful silence, we lay flowers on the bed where cancer had laid my grandfather: a strong, serious man whose confident hands no longer turned farm machinery. Cancer. He who had raised a dairy farm and eight children out of soil and hard work was at the last propped up in a bed, gasping for breath we couldn't give him. I didn't want to remember him like that.

My grandmother's name was etched close to her husband's. Helena. 1934- . I don't know how the unfinished date made her feel, but the weight of it felt heavy to me. Surrounding gravestones seemed to become exit signs, scrawled notes left on the table by the door. Some were confident, some brash. Some were barren. Others simply showed an inscribed picture of a favorite pastime: fishing, skiing...

But the inscription that caught my eye was this: "One hour there was sunlight". It seemed cryptic, ambiguous. Cemeteries are for "Rest In Peace" or "Here Lies"--solemn pronouncements standing disciplined through fog and quiet nights. This one spoke of sunlight. Really? Was one hour enough?

I remember my grandfather telling me long and rambling bedtime stories. He'd lift me out of bed onto his big lap and I'd touch his large palms with my tiny fingers. He'd tell me my own special version of Peter Rabbit, rough stubble scratching my ear when I'd lean my head toward the warm gruffness of his voice. He would conjure with the sun, dancing it among the brambles of the Briar Patch that Peter Rabbit called home.

Someone once told me that while they lived, one hour there was sunlight. I was reminded of the sunlight of my own.

I don’t know about one hour’s worth of sunlight. Sometimes it is just a green flash at sunset. Sometimes it slips into the midst of a gloomy day for 15 perfect minutes.

Sometimes the whole damn day is nothing but sun, sun, sun when the air has gone on the car and I’m racing from one chore to another. Days like that, I’d love to curl up in an armchair with a good book while rain pounds on the roof.

Mostly, I just don’t appreciate it, the sunlight hour. For most of my adult life I’ve lived in places ranging from equatorial tropics to a-tad-more-than-temperate zones. Places as diverse as Australia, Africa, and the Mediterranean. Now I’m in sunny, funny Florida.

So I don’t always notice the sunlight hour; I don’t always stop and smell the roses. I’m like the Orlando-based executive I once met on a plane coming out of Boston. He said,

”We were transferred down here from up North a few years ago. After the first year I didn’t even notice the palm trees when I drove to work every morning.”

All too often life is like that. But there was a time when I knew differently.

I was living in Cleveland. On Lake Erie. Back in the days when the Flats were a life-threatening pollutant smack in the middle of the downtown area. Before the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and all the funky eating places were put in down there.

It was winter and I was working in a downtown office, commuting via the Shaker Rapid every day from the suburb where I lived. I’d come up out of the bowels of the Terminal Tower into Public Square and that bitter, heavy air from the steel mills would clot in the back of my throat with the first breath I took. I’d think,

“Great! Here we go again – another f-en day in this f-en town!”

This was a period when I was in therapy, trying to turn my life around. A period when everything was heavy, heavy, heavy. Just before I cut and ran, starting the geographical cure that would last more than 30 years.

One day, browsing through the hundred and one meditation books that I thought just might change my life, I came across a one-liner:

A day never passes without a period of sunshine, even if only for a few minutes.

Now that was an interesting thought. Even in Cleveland? Even in Cleveland, in the winter, in the stinky downtown smog? I checked it out over several months and it was, incredibly, true. A day never passed without a period of sunlight, varying from a few minutes to the better part of an afternoon. Unbelievable, but true. So very true it was Pollyanna thinking, but still undeniably true.

I’ve checked this out wherever I’ve lived since then. Some of the places where I've had a semi-permanent address, even though thought of as being in perpetual sunshine, have their dark moments: rainy season in Africa, hurricane months in Florida, periods on the French Rivera when the cold mistral blows for 17 days non-stop.

In all of those places, on the dreary days, in the uninspiring seasons, when the wind blew and the rain fell, there was always one clear moment of sunlight in my day.

It's someting to remember more often.

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