Friday, April 29, 2011

Day Twenty Nine - You Reading This, Be Ready by William Stafford


Starting here, what do you want to remember?

How sunlight creeps along a shining floor?

What scent of old wood hovers, what softened

sound from outside fills the air?

Will you ever bring a better gift for the world

than the breathing respect that you carry

wherever you go right now? Are you waiting

for time to show you some better thoughts?

When you turn around, starting here, lift this

new glimpse that you found; carry into evening

all that you want from this day. This interval you spent

reading or hearing this, keep it for life---

What can anyone give you greater than now,

starting here, right in this room, when you turn around?

---William Stafford

William Stafford's You Reading This, Be Ready

I, like the other 7 billion people on earth right now, have moments where life dazzles and delights me, where I'm in awe of everywhere, everything, and everyone around me. These are the moments I live for...but these moments are special because they are rare. They naturally arise without expectation or anticipation and they just as naturally recede into the minutiae of routines and normal daily life. After reading William Stafford's poem You Reading This, Be Ready, I noticed that the greatest trait we, as human beings, can possess just might be contentment. To be content, truly content, requires a sense of awareness, purpose, and focus that for most people is unattainable. Contentment is hard work! You have to assess your life and the metrics of the world with the most honest vision. This quest takes us into our greatest desires, hopes, and dreams, and while these possibilities can be invigorating the honesty part is certainly a buzz kill. For example, contentment means accepting that because I'm 5 feet 8 inches tall there is very little chance that I'll ever play power forward for the Chicago Bulls. Coming to grips with this realization and other far more traumatic ones is the hard work of finding contentment. The grind continues when you take stock of the good in your life, because conversely you must consider the horrors you've avoided. I might have gripes about my apartment, my car, and my job, but at least I haven't weathered the atrocities of civil war, battled against malaria without proper medicine, or suffered through tsunamis and hurricanes that wiped all I'd accumulated in this world to the bottom of the ocean. I'll repeat it because it bears repeating: contentment is hard work. So what is the payoff? If you asked William Stafford that question I'd bet that this poem would be his answer. Contentment is "sunlight...along a shining floor" and "the breathing respect that you carry wherever you go right now." Contentment is the peace that Stafford implores us to hold onto, the peace that he wants to breathe through us and fortify our souls. It is fresh and new, it is sparkling and joyous, and because it is these things and so much more, Stafford's words should stay with us: "carry into evening all that you want from this day. This interval you spent reading or hearing this, keep it for life." It would be easy to let this calm cover your surface and because it is easy most people will ingest it in this way. But remember, contentment is difficult, even the pay off is difficult. The payoff, if you accept the challenge, will overwhelm you. The payoff happens when no one is looking "when you turn around." I say all of these things as if I'm an expert, but I've just as guilty of the surface contentment as the next guy or gal. Maybe I should take up the hard work of contentment, maybe it's time to ask Stafford's question: "Starting here, what do you want to remember?"

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