Every Monday through Friday I get an email that I never skip over. A generous fellow called Joe Riley brings me the poem and a photo I need for the day from a site called Panhala. Today’s was no different. I want to share it and at the same time to honor William Stafford and his poetry. If you haven’t read his legacy of words, I give them to you as a gift. Read more of them. He wrote everyday before dawn without fail. This poem is called The Way It Is, written 26 days before his death (in a book by the same name.)
There’s a thread you follow. It goes among things that change. But it doesn’t change. People wonder about what you are pursuing. You have to explain about the thread. But it is hard for others to see. While you hold it you can’t get lost. Tragedies happen; people get hurt or die; and you suffer and get old. Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding. You don’t ever let go of the thread.
This poem follows me in this time of not knowing what is next and yet, to me, this poem implies that I am, at the same time, holding onto a thread that is familiar to me, a thin but unbreakable guide that has drawn me into the sacredness of my life, the deepest purpose of my life. This next step may be unknown, but at the same time, especially if I look back, I can trust it. Without this trust, this basic trust in life, we cannot open to the fullness of it. And we must trust it, no matter what life brings–and it will bring things that challenge that trust–tragedies, hurt, death, suffering and getting old to name Stafford’s list. I could add others.
I must trust that no matter what, I don’t let go of that thread–that I know in my belly that I will always be okay as “it goes among things that change.” It is such a freedom, such a relief from skepticism and cynicism and doubt and fear. Perhaps Stafford senses what the poet William Blake also wrote in Plate 77 of the poem Jerusalem, “I give you the end of a golden string; Only wind it into a ball, It will lead you to Heaven’s gate, Built in Jerusalem’s wall.”
Perhaps you are familiar with Viktor Frankl, an Austrain psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, remembered for his best-selling book called “Man’s Search for Meaning.” Yet it was originally published under the title, “Nevertheless, Say “Yes” to Life.” Nevertheless, despite the atrocities of death camps, he held onto this basic trust, this basic “Yes.” To use Stafford’s words, he never “let go of the thread.”
I’ve never been challenged so severely, but I’ve had some tragedies, some hurts, some suffering, some deaths and certainly I am growing old. This poem opens me up today. I can almost sense that golden thread now, woven through all five fingers on my right hand so it can’t slip away, so I won’t let go. I’m holding on, no matter what lies ahead. I’m holding on even when others don’t understand and can’t see “what I’m pursuing.” I’m holding on.