The holiday insanity is upon us again. But instead of stressing out that I'm not Martha Stewart, I've been trying to remember to breathe, and to think about what the holidays are supposed to be about. This is hard to do, when there are stacks of papers to grade, long lines at the post office to stand in, and canned Christmas music at every turn to turn one's thoughts to homicide. But in the way of the universe and before I killed anyone, I came across this lovely poem. It stopped me short with that moment of clarity and recognition that good poems give us, and I wanted to share with you its spirit of gratitude, humor, and grace.
by Eleanor Lerman
This is what life does. It lets you walk up to
the store to buy breakfast and the paper, on a
stiff knee. It lets you choose the way you have
your eggs, your coffee. Then it sits a fisherman
down beside you at the counter who say, Last night,
the channel was full of starfish. And you wonder,
is this a message, finally, or just another day?
Life lets you take the dog for a walk down to the
pond, where whole generations of biological
processes are boiling beneath the mud. Reeds
speak to you of the natural world: they whisper,
they sing. And herons pass by. Are you old
enough to appreciate the moment? Too old?
There is movement beneath the water, but it
may be nothing. There may be nothing going on.
And then life suggests that you remember the
years you ran around, the years you developed
a shocking lifestyle, advocated careless abandon,
owned a chilly heart. Upon reflection, you are
genuinely surprised to find how quiet you have
become. And then life lets you go home to think
about all this. Which you do, for quite a long time.
Later, you wake up beside your old love, the one
who never had any conditions, the one who waited
you out. This is life’s way of letting you know that
you are lucky. (It won’t give you smart or brave,
so you’ll have to settle for lucky.) Because you
were born at a good time. Because you were able
to listen when people spoke to you. Because you
stopped when you should have and started again.
So life lets you have a sandwich, and pie for your
late night dessert. (Pie for the dog, as well.) And
then life sends you back to bed, to dreamland,
while outside, the starfish drift through the channel,
with smiles on their starry faces as they head
out to deep water, to the far and boundless sea.
from Our Post Soviet History Unfolds (Sarabande, 2005)
Have a wonderful holiday!
(ed note: This post originally appeared on November 24, 2009)