Jane Kenyon's poem "Otherwise" has been a touchstone in my life since I read it for the first time several years ago.
It's not a fancy or flashy poem. It doesn't call attention to itself. It doesn't use big words or many poetic devices. It's not a poet's poem.
And yet, when I think of how to offer gratitude to this universe for the love and beauty my life has been granted, this is the poem I think of.
When I feel my anger start to rise like bile in my throat when someone cuts me off on the highway, this is the poem I think of.
When I grumble about unfairness, or bitch about someone else's book getting published, and wonder if it will ever be my turn, I think about "Otherwise." How writing is the work that I love. How my family cherishes me and supports me. How utterly gobsmakingly lucky I am. How fleeting this life is and how absurd to waste it on envy and frustration.
"Otherwise" is my mantra. My companion. My home base. It grounds me in the simplicity of ripe peaches, a walk with the dog, the touch of my lover's hand. "Otherwise" sings of the painful transience of what makes up a life. Its quiet voice, the gentlest of reminders.
This weekend, my husband and eldest son headed to Connecticut for the last in a series of car races they have participated in. For my husband, driving around and around a track for a day and a half in full summer heat, wearing a fireproof suit, gloves, and helmet in a noisy, hard car is part of the work that he loves.
I cannot understand it.
But I know how much it means to him, how it reignites the little boy smile that his emotionally demanding and physically challenging day to day job sometimes extinguishes.
It's hard for me to appreciate why the work that he loves involves grime, sweat, and grease, but all that matters is I understand he loves it. I would no more take it away from him than he would stop me from creating worlds to house the characters and voices that fill my head.
This is a crazy life. Find a way to do the work that you love. Someday it will be otherwise.