Spring break screams three things to me: find a beach, declutter, and grow something. Tomorrow, I fly to Puerto Rico with my brother. Tonight, I write to declutter and grow on my back patio in South Carolina. Forty and single. Restless and… ready?
I’m restless either because spring is in the world or because death is still sounding in a bell tower somewhere. Either way, creative juices urged forward, I’ve been busy with my most trusted companion the past few days: my writing, the old and the messy.
A biproduct of my friend Josh’s unexpected passing on St. Patrick’s Day is that I started writing again. Why is it easier to make a commitment to someone else than to ourselves? For fifteen years, I taught poetry for six weeks, just after spring break. I switched it up and did poetry after winter break this year, and now I feel the absence of the unit. Kids should be inspired to write, like I am.
As an alternative way to inspire young minds with the power of poetry, I committed to publish a poem a day for National Poetry Month. I started with “When April Doesn’t Fool”, a poem from my Nashville days written in memory of my friend Emmy who was taken suddenly in a car accident. At the end of the poem, I added a note about why that poem was worth posting online. I’ve followed suit the past ten days, combing through pages of photographs in typography deciding which ones were worth risking exposure.
I’ve been writing poetry since before I could read chapter books. In grade school, I tried to woo the pastor’s son with prose and even original song lyrics… unsuccessfully, I might add. The only people, in fact, who’ve ever really read my poems before, are the people for whom the words were written or my creative writing teachers. Every poem risks exposure, to some degree. I wrote poems about people who died or moved away, grew up or moved on, broke my heart or made it beat. I’ve learned this April that writing poetry is not so daring as sharing it for the general good.
I feel like Professor John Keating would observe this narrative and nod in agreement; I see where this is going now. Last night, I was talking on the phone with Marci, Josh’s mom. She always asks about my writing, and it felt good to tell her how publishing my poetry was connecting me with strangers that never followed my blogs. Why hadn’t I published before? If it was for fear that I couldn’t make it as a writer, I was missing the point. One person clicking the “Like” button on my poem reflects the power of an artful arrangement of words to intersect two disparate lives.
Marci keeps being reminded that Josh had completed his purpose on Earth, but that’s so hard to fathom when it seems there are so many people that could still benefit from his presence. Like Josh, I’ve yet to do all I set out to accomplish, so if I don’t wake up for my trip to Puerto Rico, maybe we need a new definition of successful living. And I don’t think it’s in the most starring roles or copies sold.
We are so typical to reward success to those dreams achieved, not pursued. The people that we intersect with in each venture may matter more than the outcome we’d intended. Josh’s passing has stoked the coals to remember another man with promise, my uncle Joe, who lost a battle with cancer at the age of twenty-six. I cannot think of him, who I have not met, without thinking of my aunt Becky’s smile.
Mom and I were just talking about how Uncle Joe was Becky’s childhood sweetheart, her first love. They never married, but some connections are forged by the hand of God Himself. She was there for my mother as she grieved her baby brother’s early end. As a child, I was unaware of my uncle’s absence, but I never thought to question getting the love and attention of Aunt Becky.
For the first two decades, I had an aunt Becky, and then I got an uncle Eli – her second love, her grown up beginning. I’ll never see Uncle Joe throw a football or compete in a decathlon, but Aunt Becky kept him real for me. She stood in for him with my brothers and me, and our lives are made fuller, richer, and more connected because she loved him over forty years ago.
Aunt Becky understands what it’s like when your life doesn’t look like you thought it would at forty, and so she sent me a puppy tux for Tito to make the photos at my birthday party less painful. Maybe I’m restless because I am forty, hourglass half empty. I’ve got to end this grown-up temper tantrum that I’m not a mom, stop awarding myself failure at dreams unachieved and consider the pursuit of the ventures themselves as worthy.
It’s not the accolades or labels that abide death. They won’t speak your name after you’re gone. At every stage of life, you were designed to engage with other humans. With every new mission I set out to accomplish from producing a demo to getting married, it’s the people that I intersected with that matter, not the outcomes.
When I write, I declutter and grow, maybe simultaneously. Writing a poem is like taking a picture for your mind to savor later, and this one is for the woman who never got to marry my uncle, but chose to be my aunt anyway. She reminds me that what you didn’t plan for can be very, very good. I’m ready.
Who could forget the way her
Strawberry blonde hair
Cascaded down her back
Whipped in the wind
Rich and strong and enduring
Just like her
Or the unending joy in visits from Chicago
Met with hugs and kisses
Holding her a little too long just to catch up
On missed time
Or faithful cards and letters
Year after year
Presidents concealed at Christmas
To remind us of her love and support
Across the ages
Across the miles
And blood couldn’t run thicker
Than the love shared between
Old friends deepened into family
Through loss and gain
Through laughter and tears
Those strawberry blonde locks were tamed
Cut short to suit age and wisdom
But that could do nothing to curb
Her youth, her beauty
Her exuberating passion
Evidence of a woman rich, strong, and enduring
In life, in faith, in memory
Our Becky Beautiful
written in 2013