Life has been changing all around me. A few weeks ago, my husband and I were in my hometown of Stratford, Ontario Canada visiting my family but mostly visiting my oldest brother who just found out he has cancer. Not cancer in one major organ but many major organs. No indication of being sick except for sudden weight loss and an increasing inability to swallow. The diagnosis was a shock to all but no one more shocked than my brother who was vigilant about his health and an avid walker.
My husband and I aren’t new to this disease, it’s taken my wonderful sister-in-law and my best friend. You’ve probably been touched by cancer also, I don’t know of many people who haven’t. Yet the “C” word never fails to takes our breath away every time we or a loved one gets it’s diagnosis.
This week has been about regrouping, gearing up for the holidays but of course my brother is never far from my thoughts. He’s in good hands. His wife, my 93 year old father, younger brother, my sister and their families will surround him and I will visit when I can and send him things to make him laugh and help him stay comfortable as he goes through chemotherapy.
I’ve been reading a book called Midlife Manifesto: A Woman’s Guide to Thriving After Forty by Jane Matthews It’s humorous and full of ideas to keep me tracking down the path of a happy, midlife person. Picking it up where I left off after my trip, the topic of eulogies came up. As in, how do you want to be remembered? It caught me off guard, I was too raw to imagine a eulogy for myself when my brother is so ill.
I skimmed a little further, ready to put the book down when a poem I’d long forgotten rose from the pages. The words flooded back to me in rush. I’d read it to my brother once upon a time when I was an angsty teen and he was a young adult. I don’t remember a thing about the conversation we had afterwards but I do remember both of us smiling.
Days after my reading, he pulled his old ninth grade poetry book off the shelf and gave it to me. I’ve spent many a happy evening with this book for many, many years.
Now this old orange volume, first published in 1956 takes on new significance, a moment frozen in time between a shy, awkward little sister full of big emotions and an equally quiet and shy big brother. The poem is Ralph Waldo Emerson’s poem: To Laugh Often and Much or you might know it as Success.
To laugh often and much;
to win the respect of the intelligent people
and the affection of children;
to earn the appreciation of honest critics
and endure the betrayal of false friends;
to appreciate beauty;
to find the best in others;
to leave the world a bit better
whether by a healthy child, a garden patch,
or a redeemed social condition;
to know that one life has breathed easier
because you lived here.
This is to have succeeded.
The strange thing is now that I’ve found this poem again poetry has been coming to me in all sorts of ways. I’d already planned on mentioning Mary Oliver as one of my favorite contemporary poets in this post and believe it or not, I opened an email from Bella Grace Magazine titled: As Though I Had Wings: 20 Mary Oliver Quotes To Live By
It’s a lovely post with a beautiful photo. I can’t help but smile.
But that’s not all. A few days ago, a new friend sent me the Youtube video of Pentatonix singing Hallelujah. If you haven’t seen it, grab some tissues because you just might cry. I did. They knock it out of the park. Visceral, powerful.
I fully intended on sending it to my daughter but got busy and forgot. Well guess what?
She emailed me the same video! She called later to see what I thought. We had the best conversation about the song, the group and the Canadian poet behind the lyrics, Leonard Cohen. We talked about other renditions, Leonard Cohen poems I’ve loved as well as her new love of Pentatonix singing some of our favorite Christmas songs.
Another moment frozen in time.. a sweet moment between a Mother and daughter. Life. Music. Poetry.
So now it’s your turn. Since poetry seems to be falling out of the sky for me, please share some of your favorite poets and why you enjoy them. I’d love to love them too! And for all you poets out there; Claire and friends:) you know who you are— keep writing. The world needs more moments, more memories, more beauty, more poetry.
Hugs all around,