Sometimes diary or journal writing can save the day and give time for needed reflection, as well as recording our adventures and observations. As it turns out, on a recent trip to England, I had some help from that most famous diarist of all - the 17th-century Londoner Samuel Pepys.
It all began on a day when I felt tired and irritable. I couldn't take another sight. Little did I know that I would later find a special oasis.
Visiting London with my son, Richard, and his girlfriend, Yvonne, we had taken the tourist boat down the Thames River to land at the Tower of London.
I'd seen the Tower on an earlier visit, and though it is fascinating and full of history, I didn't really want to visit it again.
The unusually hot day in London probably contributed to my mood. I didn't care much for the crowds, either. So, I suggested to Richard and Yvonne that they go inside the Tower while I walked around the area and explored. We could meet at the entrance in a couple of hours.
Then I began my quest for a little peace and quiet - a tranquil moment away from the noise of buses, the tour guides' spiels on the boat and, at the Tower, the throngs of visitors and the pigeon droppings.
If I could just find a copy of the Times, I mused, I could sit down and rest, look through the paper, and center myself.
I headed for one of the small shops surrounding the Tower, but found only souvenirs. I looked in another and another. Nothing.
Frustrated, I walked north of the Tower toward the financial buildings, crossed a busy street, and found a corner shop full of magazines and the newspaper I wanted. Now I felt like a person again, not just a tourist.
I spotted a post office half a block to the west, and headed there for stamps. Suddenly I noticed a small sign, pointing north: Shiley Gardens.
I decided to tread that path and see what it was all about. A garden did seem nice.
Only a half block from that corner, I came upon a gate with lush greenery beyond it - like discovering the Secret Garden - though this one was obviously not a secret to everyone. A few Londoners, probably on lunch breaks, sat on the wooden benches in the small rectangular garden, eating and reading.
I wandered in, found a seat, breathed in the greenery, and read about the world. I was alone with my thoughts, and gradually I relaxed. Soon I felt the urge to write, to just jot down impressions and thoughts. I took out a small notebook I carry on trips and opened to a clean page. I began:
``Londoners sit quietly, newspapers open, sandwiches, drinks, near their sides. A little patch of peace is found amid the hustle, the hurry, the got-to-sees.
``Meanwhile a businessman walks by, a woman strolls to her work, birds fly in and out, and flowers bend. And I, too, am healed from the harshness.''
Then with a few colored pens, I began to sketch a nearby red rosebud ready to unfold. I felt soothed as small birds chirped nearby; a few pigeons waddled past, pecking the ground. Now even they were beginning to look beautiful.
I glanced around the garden. I saw pink and white impatiens, thin delicate blossoms glistening, and two red roses growing together like lovers.
I picked up my camera to photograph them, and as I walked to the blossoms, I saw on a pedestal the bust of a man with long curly tresses. I read the inscription: ``Samuel Pepys, Diarist, 1633-1705, erected by the Samuel Pepys Club and public subscription, 1983.''
A thrill went through me. Here I had found shelter and comfort in the garden of the most famous diarist of all - where perhaps he had even written some of the one-and-a-half million words that comprise the six volumes of his diary.
Writing and journaling had helped me - and it was as if Samuel Pepys had held out his arms to hold my words. At least his garden had provided a place for my words to come forth.
This garden, I later discovered, was part of his lodgings in the naval office where he had lived and worked. The diaries were kept by Pepys from ages 26 to 36 (1660-1669). In them, he wrote about disasters and public events, such as the plague, the great london fire, and the coronation of Charles II.
He also wrote about his small private moments: going to the theater, and talking with his wife and friends.
Part of the beauty of a diary or journal is that it is generally (at least at the time it is written) private.
Ideally, there is no judgment, no editing, and no hesitation. At its best, it is a dialogue with ourselves, a way to understand, examine, and mirror our lives.
We humans have a long history of diary writing.
The first journals, not primarily historical records, were written by women in 10th-century Japan and were part of that culture's literary golden age.
During the days when our own country was first settled, pioneer women often kept journals, recording everyday life with honesty and attention to detail.
Henry David Thoreau's diaries are classics. He wrote of solitude and his intimacy with and love of nature. Here is a passage describing snowflakes:
``What a world we live in! When myriads of these little disks, so beautiful to the most prying eye, are whirled down on every travellers coat, the observant and the unobservant, and on the restless squirrel's fur, and on the far stretching fields and forests, the wooded dell, and the mountain tops.''
In the early 1970s, with the publication and popularity of the diaries of writer Anais Nin, the diary came into the popular world in a form that incorporated both the beauty of a literary work and the honesty of a personal study.
The popularity of the journal and diary began to grow.
Each person who chooses to write in a diary or journal can find his or her unique way to record feelings and impressions of the day. Samuel Pepys did just that. For example: ``August 28, 1660: At home looking over my papers and books and house as to the fitting of it to my mind till 2 in the afternoon. Sometime I spent this morning beginning to teach my wife some skills in Musique, and find her apt beyond my imagination. This day I heard my poor mother hath these two days been very ill, and I fear she will not last long. To bed - a little troubled that I fear my boy, Will, is a thief and that he stole some money of mine - ...''
If you write, be sure to incorporate colors, sounds, smells, and textures.
You could even write a question of the day. Then let your pen glide across the page, and you may notice you have some answers inside, which will come out via the pen.
Journal writing in Samuel Pepys's garden had given me a way to center myself and notice the beauty that day in London.
After leaving the peaceful setting and walking back to the Tower, I passed a flower shop. I walked inside.
I guess I wanted to take part of the garden home to my hotel room. So I bought a long- stemmed red rose - and with that and my notebook, headed for the meeting place to link up with Richard and Yvonne once more.
Samuel Pepys might have often walked this way, I thought, over to the Thames. And it might have been just after writing his own journals, his observations of daily life, or of the challenges of the day.
Without him, we would be missing much of the intimate history of London during the 1600s. If only he could have known how far-reaching and widespread diary writing has become.
I thought of the garden as we floated back down the Thames. I had a new appreciation for my own diary, and for the power of words on paper to help us contemplate our days.