This week's word hails from the Middle English word comforten, meaning to make strong, thence from the Old French verb conforter, meaning to strengthen. Both forms probably have their origins in a Latin expression consisting of com (a prefix conveying intensity) and fortis meaning strong. Notions of comfort have at their core the idea of being strengthened, soothed and calmed, and the strength involved is not brawn or brute force, but vitality, courage and fortitude - one of the synonyms (and so far unplumbed here) for strength in my tattered thesaurus is connection. It made me think of something penned by Clarissa Pinkola Estes in Women Who Run With the Wolves: "We are strong when we stand with another soul. When we stand with one another, we cannot be broken."
Family and community go right at the top of the list when it comes to comfort, and there is comfort to be found in other things, activities and places (especially liminal places). Mirabile dictu, my comforts can be revisited anywhere and any time in their radiant stillness: bowls of cafe-au-lait served up in my favorite coffee shop, the village on a foggy morning in early December with warmly dressed villagers and whiskery trees appearing out of the mist like magic and then disappearing again; the first snowfall of the season; a fire in the old fireplace burning apple or birch wood; a lovely big fat book, my favorite teapot wafting clouds of freshly brewed chai steam into the air, the Two Hundred Acre Wood in Lanark, rambles among the old trees there with Himself and Spencer (at any time of the year).
There's a special stretch of shoreline on Dalhousie Lake where we love to go in early winter to say goodbye to the geese, and one breathtaking view from the edge of a road in Lanark. One looks out over miles of rolling pine clad ridges and shadowed alleys, and being there expresses the Great Mystery in ways I cannot begin to describe here - the vista never fails to nourish and enchant. I revisit it often in my thoughts and in every season, but most often in late November and early December when the fog rolls in. This week, the image is on my desktop, and looking at it before going off to chemo was like a meditation.
Precious beyond words are things that convey comfort, peace of mind and elemental grace in a world which often seems to be barking mad and totally out of balance. One takes her comfort where she finds it at this time of the year when days are short and, for the most part, dark. Now and again though, individual hours sparkle, and sometimes they sing like birds. One of these mornings I just may start drawing flocks of migrating geese in the foam of my caffè latte.