Why is it that today is so hard to live gratefully?
I have a list of failures always at the ready. The person I did not try hard enough to love, the spirit of ungratefulness I expressed, my failure to listen, study, learn, appreciate, care for, give to... my perpetual selfishness...
But let me tell you something that surprised ME today. I did not feel better going over that list. Usually it's enough to shut up my complaints and remind me that hey, I don't have it any more together than anyone else. And though today I tried to muster up, face it, deal with my own shortcomings... I needed to be wrapped up in beauty, spend a little time in the company of words that do not reprimand, that do not require, that do not even shed wisdom.
They are simply, irrevocably, utterly, beautiful. And that is reason enough to hear them. And these beautiful words, even if just for the moment they're spoken into the empty room, into the quiet, into this strange little corner I have wedged my heart into so that I can hop along through the week... the words sing and dazzle and promise.
My English grandmother had a way with words. She was much more direct than I am, and she "proclaimed verities" with a certainty I rarely possess. But she was shrewd, observant, and able to draw from a deep well of words. It is Granny who taught me that word, lovely, that I hold onto. I can see these moments with her:
She is looking over her large spectacles at me, her mouth pursed in a sort of calculating, pondering way. Her feet are in their flannel plaid houseshoes, and she wears a tattered cardigan and a dark grey wool skirt. Her tights bag slightly at the knees. She is reading a dusty copy of The Wind in the Willows, my very favorite children's-book-I-read-every-year book. And I am in the opposite armchair, staring into the well of These Happy Golden Years, when Laura finally falls in love with Almanzo and they get married and move to the beautiful little farm. And she just says, that's lovely.
Me, lovely. The book, lovely. Me, leaning into the well, drinking the good clear water of stories, lovely. The space between us and our books, the fire crackling, the tea brewing... it is all lovely. It is all poetry.
I leave you with this Wendell Berry poem that reminds me how to live poetry, how to live lovely, and lovingly.
How to Be a Poet
(to remind myself)
Make a place to sit down.
Sit down. Be quiet.
You must depend upon
affection, reading, knowledge,
skill—more of each
than you have—inspiration,
work, growing older, patience,
for patience joins time
to eternity. Any readers
who like your poems,
doubt their judgment.
Breathe with unconditional breath
the unconditioned air.
Shun electric wire.
Communicate slowly. Live
a three-dimensioned life;
stay away from screens.
Stay away from anything
that obscures the place it is in.
There are no unsacred places;
there are only sacred places
and desecrated places.
Accept what comes from silence.
Make the best you can of it.
Of the little words that come
out of the silence, like prayers
prayed back to the one who prays,
make a poem that does not disturb
the silence from which it came.