What Can We Do When We Feel There Is Nothing We Can Do?

What can we do when we feel “there is nothing we can do?” When we feel helpless and afraid after what happened in Paris, San Bernardino, and Los Angeles. And that’s just in the last few weeks.

Here in the bustle and busy-ness of the holidays, amid the wealth and commerce that pervade our culture, we find ourselves in the wake of terror and violence. We all of us face fear, sadness, and grief, all of which are heightened during the holidays.

I find myself thinking, what can I do?

The table beside my “quiet chair” is graced by a bouquet from a dear friend.

Our day-to-day lives are so full of family, work, and community responsibilities that there isn’t room for much else. Moreover it’s just not practical or possible for most of us to join the Marines, or work in refugee camps, or become priests, or be Bono.

We must content ourselves with ourselves; unless as someone once said, we can be Batman, in which case always be Batman.

Quince branches in my former New York apartment.

And then I remind myself that we affect the world with every single thing we think, say, and do.

What can we do? We can lend a hand right in our own little town or big city. We can lend an ear, or a shoulder. We can visit a family member who is lonely. We can run an errand for a friend whose child is sick. We can pull someone out of a ditch. We can make a stranger feel welcome. We can be kind.

Sisters out for a ride at the ranch. Photo by Allison Dittmer.

We can embrace beauty. 

Dinner in the olive grove at Rancho la Zaca.
The lovely chandelier and marble-papered ceiling in my sister’s powder room.

We can move with grace.

A dragonfly alights on the hand of the Horticulture Society of New York’s George Pisegna, in the rooftop gardens of the Waldorf Astoria, New York.

We can act with integrity. We can say yes to whatever integrity means for us. And just as importantly, we can say no.

“We’ve been through a lot together and most of it was your fault.” Snapped at the Country Living magazine fair this fall and wish I could remember the artist. (If you’re out there, let me know, I want to credit cute, clever you.)

We can, as the line in a Christmas hymn goes, let the soul feel its worth.

It goes without saying, perhaps, but we can wear elf ears.

With George and Mary Jones at the Montgomery, Alabama, Curb Market a few weeks ago.

We can pray of course. We can pray for peace, and we can pray for the comfort of those who are suffering.

A splendid chapel in Kotor, Montenegro, where we visited this summer.

We can, as God, Jesus, Allah, Buddha, Krishna, Quan Yin, and all of ’em would have it, we can make our lives about love. And as the new Episcopal Presiding Bishop Michael Curry said in his installation speech, “If it’s not about love, it’s not about God.” To which the entire National Cathedral would have shouted  AMEN if  they did that in the Episcopal  Church, which they do not. But they wanted to then.

A friend’s heart-shaped rock collection inspired me to start one of my own. This is hers. I love the light.

We can do what brings us joy. We can play sports or play music or sing or dance or cook or read or tell a naughty joke (one of my personal favorites).

A little football Thanksgiving weekend at Rancho la Zaca. Photo by friend Amy Stuart Gordon.

All the joy we feel goes out into the world.

We can have fun.

Pure joy. Piper, the newest addition to our family.

By our own examples of kindness, gratitude, integrity, grace, and joy, however great or small, we can set examples for others. We can shine a light for others. We can bring light to the world.

The Pantheon in Rome, visited earlier this year.

We can be a force for good.

That is what we always can do.

The ever inspiring drive home along Foxen Canyon Road outside Los Olivos, California.


  1. Frances-this is your best one yet. I plan to forward to several friends and family and even print it out as a keeper. Wonderful words to live by.

  2. Thank you, Frances, for this beautiful post as well as all of the others. You bring joy in each one. Your words delight as well as soothe the soul.

  3. Frances,
    As an Episcopalian in the Diocese of North Carolina, where our new Presiding Bishop came directly from, I can say with certainty that he would have LOVED it if the entire National Cathedral had given him an AMEN! That’s the kinda Bishop he was for us, and I hope will be for us all!
    I love your blog- Merry Christmas!

  4. Sweet Frances,
    Your uplifting thoughts and beautiful images are so needed at this time of year,
    especially after the harrowing times tihis country has been through. Thank you
    for your always insightful comments.

  5. Frances,
    Just want to bottle or bind this and send it to everyone. You have hit the
    eloquent nail on the head and given us all inspiration for the last of 2015 and for hopes in the year 2016.
    most cheerfully and xo,

  6. As always, very well said (er written).

    Wish you and all of yours–that includes Tom even if he doesn’t like my use of the possessive pronoun–a joyful and peaceful holiday season. xA

  7. Beautiful Frances! I just made a little post it for my office wall, “If it’s not about love, it’s not about God.” Michael Curry. Thank you for a post I really needed today! XXOOXX

  8. Lovely post! I’m in my sixties, and often reflect on the life I’ve lived. Sometimes I feel bad that I haven’t worked harder to make the world a better place. But then I see my children raising their children with morality, responsibility and joy and I think maybe I did play a role in bringing more goodness to the world. You’re right! Small actions can have impact!

  9. This is lovely. How uplifting. You are a wonderful lady who uses her words to comfort and inspire others. Merry Christmas.

  10. You are so soulful, sweet Frances. This is a perfect message for us at this time of year and as we look out into our troubled world…..it is a gift to us all. You touch my heart. Thank you…..

  11. What lovely pictures of that special Rancho La Zaca which truly shows God’s hand and the special times it provides for you and your family. Your message is appreciated and needed. All best wishes for the new year

  12. This makes me cry… And laugh of course! Thank you for your gift of words but also forcing me to slow down and take a breathe and read your words of kindness and remind me / us that yes in this mad mad world we live in simple acts of kindness are gold today.

    Also, your friends rock heart collection is so cool – I too have a friend who has been doing that for years and just yesterday I gave her a heart Rock I found in Bali. Glad to know others do this … Never even thought about rocks having heart shaped till you start looking! She build a large outdoor fire place and had all her special heart rocks randomly placed in it. Loved that photo – those hearts were full of light.. Spreading light… Always good. Love Laurette

  13. Absolutely beautiful and a great reminder for all! As a yoga teacher, writer and lover of life, I do my best to live and breathe love, positive thought and care for myself and others. Your inspiring, heartfelt message reminds me of the important role we each play in reaching out to others in times of need and sharing light and love to all. Let’s all be a force for good!

  14. Frances,
    I have loved reading your posts over the last few months and loved your book even more. Thank you for making us all stop to remember the important things during this crazy, over caffeinated holiday season. Family, friends, faith, and good health: I wish that for you and all of your readers now and throughout the new year.

  15. Beautiful post! Just got your book for Rob’s stocking. Know he will read it in one sitting reflecting on your sweet family and the love he has for you all. Merry Christmas!

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