My life has been the poem

National Poetry Month, Day 14 // “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans,” John Lennon sang in “Beautiful Boy.” The song was recorded in 1980, but the phrase was a variation of one printed in 1957 in the “Quotable Quotes” column of Reader’s Digest. I don’t know how long before that it first appeared in print, but it appeared in experience much earlier.

The theme is at least as old as the Christian scriptures, perhaps most notably in Jesus’ parable of the great banquet (Luke 14:15-24). There a religious leader speaks of his hope of having a place in a future kingdom of God. With everything about his life, he plans to be included in that great banquet. But Jesus says to him: This is the life you’ve been hoping for. While you’ve been busy planning for the future, the life you’ve been hoping for is happening to you now.

While working as a semiprofessional photographer, I discovered that I could not both record an event on film and be a full participant in it. By observing it through the lens of a camera, I imposed some distance, however slight, between it and me. It was a distance I could close only when I laid aside the camera. Similarly, looking ahead to what may lie in the future imposes some distance, however slight, between me and the reality in which I live today. I can’t simultaneously believe there it is and fully trust Jesus when he says here it is.

“My life has been the poem I would have writ,”
by Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)

My life has been the poem I would have writ,
But I could not both live and utter it.

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