The email chain came through so earnestly; “We’re starting a collective, constructive, and hopefully uplifting Interfaith devotional exchange.” At first, I thought we was my friend and the other person she’d listed–the person from whence it came and the woman whose name would move to the top of the list. But then I received the same message from someone else and I read more closely; “we” became much larger — everyone and no one.
The email said not to think too much about the quote you shared with another, so I copied the Khalil Gibran quote that’s been on my kitchen cupboard for years: “And could you keep your heart in wonder at the daily miracles of your life, your pain would not seem less wondrous than your joy.” It sustained me through some really dark, shitty times. It still makes me breath more deeply and reminds me to drill down, to see the dust motes the way that Scorsese did in Hugo: Beautiful.
I feel curmudgeonly to admit it, but most of the quotes and poems that have arrived via the chain email have meant little to me. I read them – happy to have this little piece of connected email that is not offering 60% off or reminding me to register for a medical survey. And I am thankful to think of all of these people across the country taking the minute or two to consider the assignment, looking through bookcases or on the bulletin board for the perfect words to share.
“If you listen very hard the tune will come to you at last.”
Only two have really spoken to me. One was from my 92-year old grandmother (I felt badly as I’d included her thinking that she’d appreciate the email but then realized that she didn’t need one more thing to do; doing it “right” was a burden.). “Always be yourself,” she wrote simply, words that meant more to me knowing the contours of her life. The other was from a man who didn’t identify himself: “If you listen very hard the tune will come to you at last.”
Both sounded like hard won pieces of very personal advice. Wisdom from the trenches, not from the higher ground of the established poets, not from the proven ground of the greeting card (even the funky greeting card).
I think that words speak to us in the moment and only when they are really heard do they become wise. Today at the gym, fumbling with my iPhone while on the elliptical (“Do not operate a phone while on a moving machine,” is a good truism), I was trying to find the Sharon Salzberg talk I’d heard a few days ago. Not able to locate the exact spot where I’d left off, I repeated some of the recording. This time, though, I really got a particular thought. (Essentially: We want to be generous to others, but we can only do this if we cultivate abundance in ourselves, toward ourselves.) Today I heard this message. Three days ago – whether it was because my heart was closed or there was too much background noise, who knows – I couldn’t.
So if you get the chain mail asking for a quote or thought of inspiration, go ahead and participate. But know that the most important audience for your message will be yourself, reconnecting with words that have resonated with you in the past and reminding yourself of their grace in the present.