but they want me to remember
and i keep remembering
- Lucille Clifton, "why some people be mad at me sometimes"
* * *
You see, it is through poetry the world is known, made knowable. At least in part.
* * *
We toggle through our days running for something, towards something, from something: running because others run, because there's a track, because we have feet and running feels right, because stillness brings an encroaching fear that maybe we aren't certain about our running and our feet and the track and the others out there running. We toggle through. We run. We get good at it. We get good at not noticing things, at not seeing the details clearly - more a blur, something possibly seen at the corner of our eye - at not wanting the detail for it would bog us down, slow us up, trip us up and bring us down. But even as we run, even as we toggle, topple, toddle, tipple and fall and catch ourselves before we fall a memory appears against our will: a piece of grit in the soft palate of an oyster. This memory troubles, grows, becomes a pearl of very great price: it is us, it is our I-ness, it is the burr of our soul irritating every step we take. It will not let up. It will not cease its growth until we stop to consider it, to turn it over in our hands, to marvel at its color, to wonder at its presence in the midst of all this running. And there it sits in the palm of our hand, small, round, the size of a hazelnut. We look and we say to ourselves, "What can this be?" and the answer comes without volition, "It is all that is made."
* * *
To know a truth about yourself is to be in opposition to the truths others have for you. To know your story against the stories others would have you know is to be in opposition to them, to their stories. Not as an adversary, but simply separate, distinct, vital without needing approval. Others, unless they are strong in their own story, will find your insistence on your own memories, your own knowledge about yourself and what your life might be, difficult to understand, possibly a threat to their own participation in the running stories that keep them runningandrunningandrunningandrunning without a moment to themselves. You might be asked about your story, but they really want you tell them about themselves, to assure them they've done well and they did you no harm. Give them this story, give them this memory and approval awaits. Validation is yours. Refuse their offer and your story finds no venue.
And it is here doubt comes calling. You may decide you've been kidding yourself (it's so hard to know for sure!) and you set aside that truth, that story, that memory, that pearl of very great price, place it possibly in a lovely box that you keep on your dresser as a sort of talisman to youthful exuberance, a talisman to being unwise and you find you can forgive yourself for such indiscretions. It is easy to do and you get on with living a different sort of life, one that knows very little about pearls and hazelnuts, but a great deal about running and blurring details and being welcomed home by the other runners.
And if you are lucky, very lucky or blessed as you see fit, a memory appears against your will: a piece of grit in the soft palate of an oyster. This memory troubles, grows, becomes a pearl of very great price: it is you, it is your I-ness, it is the burr of your soul irritating every step you take. It will not let up. It will not cease its growth until you stop to consider it, to turn it over in your hands, to marvel at its color, to wonder at its presence in the midst of all this running. And there it sits in the palm of your hand, small, round, the size of a hazelnut. You look and you ask, "What can this be?" and the answer comes without volition, "It is all that is made."
* * *
You are free to repeat this as often as you need to. Some will need to gather but one pearl in their lives. You and I, well, we might need a bag full. Our sorrows, our failings, our losses, our missed chances, our mistakes, our fears, our doubt, our tragedies, our wonderment, our hope, our memories, our desires, our love, our goodness, our faith, our laughter are all bits of grit, the source of our identity. Or at least, they can be. It is up to you what you will remember, what you will use to build your life around. For, in the end, anything can be the place where you begin and the rest of the stories separate themselves from you. And make no mistake, you will make others angry and uncomfortable with your insistence to build up your life around an idea or memory that they consider odd or difficult or unworthy. It can make for loneliness, but only for a while. That never lasts. It isn't permanent, or doesn't have to be. By staying rooted in yourself, by heeding the call of this memory, this truth about yourself and by organizing your days around that you become a light that draws others into their name, into their memory, into their truth. Your life, lived by the soul of your truth, becomes connected to others who live so, or are trying to be so. In the simplicity of being true to that which animates you, you are a sign and a signal pointing to a truth larger than yourself, a cause greater than yourself. And you accomplish this by letting others be mad at you, and keep on remembering that pearl, that bag of pearls, the hazelnut in the palm of your hand: everything that is.
And you are its keeper, its steward. At least for a while and then it needs to be handed off. The works you leave behind are the means of that transition, a bet placed on the courage of those you'll never know.
* * *
I wish you well.