Last year Sarah at Momalom wrote a post about the words that surround us. There is, of course, much meaning in the things with which we choose to fill the space we live in. There’s no question that the single biggest non-human inhabitor of my living space is books. They line the walls of my living room, family room, childrens’ rooms, and office, and exist in an ever-growing stack by my bed. I would certainly please Anna Quindlen, who said of her children, “I would be most content if [they] grew up to be the kind of people who think decorating consists mostly of building enough bookshelves.”
In my office, the place I spend so much of my time, there is surprisingly little in the way of words on actual display. There are, though, close at hand, my four treasured quote books (filled with poems, quotes, passages in my handwriting, which changes markedly from 1985 when I began the first book to now), which I refer to at least daily. I sit facing a board with photographs of various people stuck haphazardly into it, and there are a few precious words on there too. There are cut-out slivers of paper, with typing from notes from both my mother and my father.
From Dad: “you need to make peace with the quest,” from a long letter he wrote me when I began my freshman year at Princeton. Prescient, that engineer-poet, no? From Mum: “Thank you, from my too big heart, for your attention and love,” from a note after she was hospitalized years ago with cardiomyopathy.
I also have a post-it note from Grace that says, in her years-go spidery hand, “I love you Mummy” and then, in the top corner, a card with the handwritten lines of When You are Old by Yeats (“…. how many loved your moments of glad grace/loved your beauty, with love false or true/but one man loved the pilgrim soul in you/and loved the sorrows of your changing face”). Jessica gave this poem, which to me speaks of truly knowing someone and loving them, over long years and for their truest self, for my birthday in 1995.
When I move beyond my literal space, into the space of my head, there are many, many, many words that surround me. I go through life in a cloud of words. Sometimes these words feel like a soothing cumulous cloud, other times like a swarm of mosquitos. I’ve written before about the way certain lines of poems, songs, or other works come to my mind, unbidden (consciously, that is) … we’ve all had the experience of having something stuck in our head. I think there is much to be understood from excavating why certain sentences rise up when they do.
Some of the lines that most frequently run through my mind are these:
In this moment there is life and food for future years (Wordsworth, Tintern Abbey)
In the struggle lies the joy. (Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings)
Life gives us what we need it when we need it. Receiving what it gives us is a whole other thing. (Pam Houston, In My Next Life)
Just be here now. (Colin Hay, Waiting for my Real Life to Begin)
There is no such thing as a complete lack of order, only a design so vast it appears unrepetitive up close. (Louise Erdrich, The Bingo Palace)
There are so many more. These are the ones that came immediately to mind tonight. When I revisited Sarah’s original post that inspired me, I saw that I cited two: “There are years that ask questions and years that answer” (Zora Neale Hurston) and “To miss the joy is to miss all” (Robert Louis Stevenson) The list is endless.
We all have words that accompany us and surround us, in our literal and our virtual spaces. I’d love to know yours: what words accompany you, in your physical and mental space, during your days?