National Poetry Month, Day 8 // There’s a line in an old railroad song, “Isn’t it the going and not the getting there.” Anyone who has ridden on old steam-driven train will appreciate that reaching the destination is an anticlimax; the joy and adventure are in the journey. And in yesterday’s poem, “Ithaca,” Constantine Cavafy wrote that though the long return journey home may bring us nothing – no riches, nothing of substance – it may have given us a beautiful voyage, great wisdom, and much experience to enrich our lives, if our hearts are open to those things. Life is, indeed, all about the going and not the getting there.
As I consider the shortness of life – there are many more days behind me than ahead of me now – and the wisdom of heart that accrues in the living of it (Ps. 90:12), I think less of where it may take me in the end and more of how I travel its long arc. Many years ago, during an auto trip from New York City to my home in the Midwest, I dialed back my pace, stopped often, and drove with the radio off – that was before I had a tape deck or CD player. It took me a full extra day to reach my destination, but I arrived rested and calm, carrying within me a peace that no other such trip has provided.
It has become a defining metaphor for my life. Slow down and don’t think so much about what awaits at the end or how it will end. Give attention instead to the moment, the now. This isn’t, after all, a dress rehearsal. This moment is all there is. Be here. Maybe here, as Jeanne Lohmann (1923-2016) wonders in her poem “Praise What Comes,” in the “quiet intervals” and the ordinary of this day I may “catch the smallest glimpse of the holy.”
Praise What Comes
surprising as unplanned kisses, all you haven’t deserved
of days and solitude, your body’s immoderate good health
that lets you work in many kinds of weather. Praise
talk with just about anyone. And quiet intervals, books
that are your food and your hunger; nightfall and walks
before sleep. Praising these for practice, perhaps
you will come at last to praise grief and the wrongs
you never intended. At the end there may be no answers
and only a few very simple questions: did I love,
finish my task in the world? Learn at least one
of the many names of God? At the intersections,
the boundaries where one life began and another
ended, the jumping-off places between fear and
possibility, at the ragged edges of pain,
did I catch the smallest glimpse of the holy?