Words that accompany me

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?

26 thoughts on “Words that accompany me”

  1. “Courage originally meant ‘To speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.'” Brene Brown.

    This one makes me think of you, Lindsey….

    Thank you.

  2. Here’s one I just read and loved:
    “You can’t be in London for long without going to the Zoo. There are some people who begin the Zoo at the beginning, called WAYIN, and walk as quickly as they can past every cage until they get to the one called WAYOUT, but the nicest people go straight to the animal they love the most, and stay there.”
    –Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne

  3. Thanks for sharing these. I love knowing phrases and writing that sticks with people. I have another T.S. Eliot bit from Little Gidding in my post from yesterday. xo

  4. “We don’t remember days; we remember moments” – Cesare Pavese

    “Hope is the thing with feathers/That perches in the soul/And sings the tune without the words/And never stops at all” – Emily Dickinson.

    “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge — that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” – Ephesians 3:17-19

  5. Do you know, I have a love affair with words too, and books. Oh how I LOVE LOVE books. And sadly, mine are all packed away in crates. It’s a long story, one that I’m hoping to rectify soon. But actually, what I love about that is, the more recent books have ended up in various piles here and there. And there is something comforting about that! At any rate, I love words, but I can never seem to remember really meaningful quotes. All this to say, I’m struck by your idea of a quote book. I like it so much I think I might steal it up.

  6. Oh my. Great post! There are so many. I have quotes written on the fridge and in the laundry room (odd choice, I guess) and scribbled down. One quote that comes to mind, that I revisit often in my life is: “Remember green’s your color. You are spring.” Gwendolyn Brooks.

  7. “All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.”

    I got that from Madeleine L’Engle, who quoted it frequently herself from Julian of Norwich, a nun and mystic from the 1300’s.

    I just googled it and it turns out I’ve been misquoting it, it’s just “All shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.” But the repetition in the verse is part of the tenderness, reassurance, and comfort, for me. That’s how it lives in my mind, regardless, so I’m kinda stuck with it that way. 🙂

  8. Great post! Cannot confess some of the stupid little meaningless phrases that bounce around my brain sometimes, but here are two that actually might make some sense to the outside world:

    Snippet from Hamlet that works when I need motivating to sort through some difficult tangle “…take arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing end them…”

    and something longer from my goddess Joan Didion: “We are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind’s door at 4am of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends. We forget all too soon the things we thought we could never forget.”

  9. Slow
    Trust the

    “One hundred years from now, all new people!”

  10. Two quotes are sticking in my mind today, the day after an election that ended with a dear friend of mine coming oh so close to winning a seat in the US Congress, but falling just short. That outcome makes my heart ache, but then I remember Margaret Mead’s words:

    “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

    And with that, I know we all must keep working hard for the things that matter most to us.

    Also today, I’m reminded of the wise words of my husband’s grandmother. This is a quote that explains pretty much all the bad behavior you will ever experience, either as a bystander, victim, or bless us all, a purveyor:

    “Anger arises when one’s self-image is threatened.”

    Honestly, I find it really helps to remember this when I feel myself simmering, or see it in others.

  11. I too have a quote book and I love that you do! It’s my personal user guide:)

    Thank you for this post. I needed to go through my favorite quotes and appreciate how beautiful the words are. Thank you for sharing the Louise Erdrich quote about “A Design So Vast.” That one just sung.

    You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. – Max Ehrmann, Desiderata

  12. Well, I know what words I won’t ever forget now: “you need to make peace with the quest.” Please thank your dad for that.

    My mantra during my teenage years: “There isn’t a train I wouldn’t take, no matter where it’s going.” – Edna St. Vincent Millay

    There are a number of Einstein quotes that have meant something to me over the years. This one is with me now: “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.”

    From someone that meant a lot to me: Our truest life is when we are in dreams awake.
    – Henry David Thoreau

    “Enjoy the Process” – my dad. Over and over again as I was growing up.

    Thanks for this post, L. It has inspired me to dig up all those old notes and cards and post-it notes I’ve saved over the years and let those words wash over me.

  13. Oh! And how could I forget the one that is the most relevant to YOU!!!

    To know someone here or there with whom you can feel there is understanding in spite of distances or thoughts unexpressed ~ that can make life a garden. ~ Goethe

  14. This post reminded me of a scrapbook of quotes that I put together when I was younger. A friend and I used to trade quotes in high school. I hope that I have it stored away somewhere.

    I also love words and books. Unfortunately a few years ago I gave away a ton of my books. I kept my favorites of course, but I regret giving all the others away.

    Sadly, the words that float around in my head throughout the day aren’t always positive ones. You’ve reminded me of the importance of filling our minds with good thoughts.

    Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things [are] honest, whatsoever things [are] just, whatsoever things [are] pure, whatsoever things [are] lovely, whatsoever things [are] of good report; if [there be] any virtue, and if [there be] any praise, think on these things. Phl 4:8

  15. Interesting. I crafted my response to your post before I read the whole thing, and nearly didn’t reply because of it.

    I’m not really one for quotes, but I really understand the power of words.

    The shift from saying “when I was sick” to “when I had my health crisis” did wonders for my wellness.

    Hugs and butterflies,

  16. I have millions. You know that.

    But this week it’s
    “Never blame the lettuce”
    from that Catherine Newman article we both read…I think she was quoting Thich Nhat Hanh.

    In other news, I have about 20 frames sitting in my office waiting for family pictures to finally be printed. They will line the walls of my hallway and my staircase. In a few of them I will be putting some of my favorite and most needed words. I want to see them when I wake up in the morning and come downstairs. I want my husband and my children to be reminded by certain things, time and time again. Sometimes I think they need the words much more than I do.

    I will surely take a picture and share it with you if and when I finally get my project completed!

    Words. So powerful. Sometimes too much so.


  17. I’ve never heard of another person who kept a quote book. I started with a ragged little pocket notebook that fit into the front pocket of my backpack in junior high, experimented with quote collages on dorm room walls and now my quote book haphazardly exists as a large scrapbook that mostly just gets scraps of paper and odd post-its shoved under its cover for a future purpose.

    I work in the area of legal services for child protection agencies and whenever my caseload starts to make my soul ache, I look to this little quote I have taped above my workstation: “In the little world in which children have their existence…there is nothing so finely perceived and so finely felt as injustice.” – Charles Dickens. It immediately reminds me of the greater purpose to the work that I do. That it’s not about me, it’s about the kids.

    Thank you for your inspiring words. Believe it or not, there are days that your words help keep me sane; reminding me that no matter what is going on around me, it is important to be present in every moment of my life.

  18. “Progress always involves risk. You can’t steal second base with your foot on first” – Frederick Wilcox

    “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye” – Antoine de Saint-Exupery

    “Those who bring sunshine into the lives of others cannot keep it from themselves” – James Barrie

  19. i have no idea how to even begin to answer this, there are so many. like you, i have them scribbled on bits of paper, hung up, tucked into books to use as bookmarks, and journals full of quotations – each quote speaking to me on some level. loved reading some of your favorites and those of fellow commenters!

    in the spirit of playing along, on days like today that started out upside down and inside out, i lean to plath, “i am, i am, i am” and dickinson, “i dwell in possibility…”

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