April 2018

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Winged Words

When my nephew Willie was a bit younger, he lost his “favorite quarter,” a Canadian quarter, and he was quite upset about it, so Ann and I sent him a new Canadian quarter. Sister Jen said that when he opened his gift, he immediately sought for pen and paper, and—unprodded by his mother—wrote a heart-felt thank you note. It may have been the first thank you note we received from our nieces and nephews. When we opened the note, we read, “Thank you for sending me what I really wanted.”

Friends and family gave me what I really wanted for my fiftieth birthday: poems and quotations to go in my new “Winged Words” mailbox, which my friend Karen painted with butterflies and a heron (other winged beings.)

For days, I have read and re-read, organized and re-organized, these gifts. My crafty friend Ellen is helping me display them in glittery books.  Among the poems, I have noticed patterns. The most often celebrated poets, for example, are the contemporary poets Mary Oliver and Billy Collins and the 13th century Persian mystical poet Rumi. Though I received hundreds of poems and quotations, I did not receive the same poem or quotation from any two well-wishers. This suggests to me that there are so many lovely poems yet to be discovered in this world. What a joyful, amazing thought.

I love pouring over these gifts (yes, I am truly a geek) from a wide range of times and traditions. Today as I was re-reading Mary Oliver’s “The Journey” (the first poem that Little Brother Matt and I shared), I noticed Dr. Seuss’s poem from my friend Victoria, and I noticed how the kernel of their messages was so similar though the styles are quite different. See what you think:

Dr. Seuss wrote:
Today you are
You, this is truer than true.
There is no one alive
Who is Youer than You.

And in “The Journey”, Mary Oliver wrote

But little by little,

the stars began to burn

through the sheets of clouds,

and there was a new voice

which you slowly

recognized as your own,

that kept you company

as you strode deeper and deeper

into the world,

determined to do

the only thing you could do --

determined to save

the only life you could save.

And there’s even an Oscar Wilde quotation from my friends John and Jerry that echoes the same theme: “Be yourself. Everybody else is already taken.”

All three call us to be our essential selves, and isn’t it funny that we should need the wisest ones among us to tell us what it seems we might already have known. And yet, clearly we need reminding, or even just telling in the first place. Maybe the poet Wordworth was right in his poem “Intimations of Immortality” (and elsewhere) when he wrote that he was his truest self as a child but lost that self (and that child’s appreciation for the natural world) as the world’s veil covered both his inward and his outward eye.

How long I attempted to be the person I thought I should be, looking among the adults around me to get a picture to copy: thin beauty and smart suburban mom married happily-ever-after (or even not so happily) to the industrious and smart (and wealthy) man of someone’s dreams—not mine, but it took me a long time to even realize that.

So winged words from Mary O (as I affectionately call her), Dr. Seuss (I wonder where he got his doctorate) and Oscar Wilde (the Irish always get it right) seem like the right words to celebrate in my fiftieth year, as I celebrate the wisdom of some years and hope for more years to come.

Fifty is going to be a great decade! And for my fifties, I am going to me. Perhaps I'll be me-er than me. (Look out, world!)

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