She Hums Along

Walking down the hall to the shared bathroom in the morning with my toilet kit in hand, I had a déjà vu sensation that it was 1970, and I was living in a college dorm. When I entered the bathroom, two bright-eyed young women were standing side by side at the sinks washing and grooming and chatting. “Have you always written poetry?” one was saying to the other. “Always,” she replied, with a mouth full of toothpaste. “Even as a kid…I find it very sustaining.”

It was 6 a.m. I needed coffee. I hadn’t slept well. I wanted to be open and friendly, and I sincerely admired the ability to discuss the role of poetry in one’s life at 6 a.m., but I had a vague headache and I was feeling old and irritable, and, as I said, I needed coffee.

It was one of those “What am I doing here?” moments, and in the course of the weekend, I was to experience many. But I heeded the advice of my friend Dan, who told me to remember Rilke: Just keep going. No feeling is final.

And no feeling was. Whenever I felt strange and disconnected, some lifeline would inevitably appear, in the form of an unexpected conversation, a gesture of friendliness, perhaps a memorable fragment of wisdom or poetry, and everything would shift. Or sometimes I simply walked the trails beneath the redwood trees, those reliably awe-inspiring and perspective-restoring ancient beings.

I tuned into gratitude, too…how lucky I was to be there! I understood that I was the recipient of a special opportunity, and I only hoped that I would prove worthy, and that of course led to feeling insecure and misplaced, but…well, no feeling is final.

One evening at dusk, I bravely entered the hot tub-infinity pool already inhabited by nineteen (I counted them) people. They were young and intense, lots of tattooed skin and hipster glasses, little groups engaged in animated conversation about the issues of the day, and the meaning of art, a young African-American man in dreadlocks quoting Reverend William Barber, Maria Popova herself in a black bathing suit and very red lipstick, and the steamy mist rising like their words from the water, drifting upward beyond the tops of the redwood trees, and I could not believe I was in the same pool with these people, a part but apart, perched on my own little section of ledge, but everyone’s glistening bodies so close together, and perhaps our aspirations were aligned, but I cannot say. (And I only wish that I could harness my power of invisibility for the good of humanity!)

Again and again, I found I lacked the energy, skill, and confidence to effectively navigate the social dynamics, meet some of the people I admired, join the community, and become part of the noise. I had come in search of wisdom, inspiration, and tangible ideas to carry forward, but I’m a hard-of-hearing introvert, after all, and I guess I would have had to work harder to connect with other people in real ways, and I discovered I don’t have the ambition.

In fact, when Marilyn Nelson read the following poem, called Bird-Feeder, I thought to myself, “Exactly!”:

Approaching seventy, she learns to live,
at last. She realizes she has not
accomplished half of what she struggled for,
that she surrendered too many battles
and seldom celebrated those she won.
Approaching seventy, she learns to live
without ambition: a calm lake face, not
a train bound for success and glory. For
the first time, she relaxes her hands on the
controls, leans back to watch the coming end.
Asked, she’d tell you her life is made out of
the things she didn’t do, as much as the
things she did do. Did she sing a love song?
Approaching seventy, she learns to live
without wanting much more than the light in
the catbird window seat where, watching the
voracious fist-sized tweets, she hums along.

This entry was posted in Commentary, Memoir, Travel and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to She Hums Along

  1. Christine Beebe says:

    OK, Cynthia, I cannot visualize you as the woman in this poem. Maybe if you were an extrovert, you’d not have the ability to observe, reflect, and write about this weekend with such accessible honesty. I think your writing proves that you are worthy in all ways that matter.

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