“Art is when you hear a knocking from your soul — and you answer.” ~ Terri Guillemets
There is a famous quote from Walt Whitman’s Leave of Grass that says; “This is what you shall do…” he goes on to list all the lovely, Atticus Finch type things you could think of a human being doing; loving the earth, giving alms to the poor, devoting income and labor to others, having patience, going freely with “uneducated persons” with “the young” with “the mothers of families,” reading poetry, re-examining what you’ve been told, dismissing anything that “insults your own soul” and as a result of all this luscious living, he writes, “…your very flesh shall be a great poem.”
Since high school those magical words have caressed my soul…“your very flesh shall be a great poem.” It’s delicious. It’s wild, it’s adventurous, it’s dangerous, it’s earnest, it’s magnificent!
And it makes perfect sense to a 17 year-old rebellious teenager who knew nothing of responsibilities, of taxes, of recessions, of heartbreak or broken dreams.
And yet…here I sit, as a 42 year-old wife and mother of two…and I can say with confidence and sometimes sorrow, that I understand and have experienced responsibilities, taxes, recessions, heartbreaks and have had my fair share of broken dreams… but if I am truly honest with myself…I know there is no other way to live, than to be the poem.
Oh…I said it.
Don’t get me wrong…I pay homage to my type A, picket fence routines everyday. I love to have a clean house, I like getting up at a certain time, doing each one of the chores on my to-do list in a certain order and having things just so…I like to know what’s going to happen next, I don’t like uncertainty or surprises… and this can work, as a life…if, like a jazz musician, you can riff outside the lines of the piece of music you create with your daily routine.
But if you get stuck inside that piece of music and never veer off the page, never take a pause where there’s supposed to be a note, or pay loud and hard where it says to be quiet, before you know it, YEARS will have gone by and you will have just maintained. And then your flesh will just be…more fleshy.
I don’t think any of us signed up for ordinary. I think we get so distracted by our material world that we forget just how magical we are and how we came here with a purpose. We don’t need to be artists or musicians, we don’t even have to be particularly skilled with words or glue guns or bricks or flower arranging to live our lives as art. We just need to live our lives with a certain…abandon.
Yes…I said it.
Abandon. We did it when we were kids. We played with abandon, we sang with abandon, we laughed till milk came out our noses! We put our whole hearts and souls into whatever we were doing, fully focused, with passion and energy and vision and light. And as kids, our very flesh WAS the poem.
So what’s stopping you now? Is it practicality? Rationality? Uncertainty? Fear?
I have never met someone who set an outrageous goal for themselves, achieved it, and then said, “That was a mistake.”
In fact, it seems to me that the real art in life happens outside our comfort zones.
It wasn’t until my dreams of domestic bliss were cracked and broken by our economy that I actually knew this. It MADE me pull my head out of the sand and become extraordinary. Yes…it was beyond awful and painful while it was happening, but at the same time…
I hugged longer. I loved deeper. I was more grateful for little things; like hot running water, food to pack lunches, gas in my car, a warm bed, a fire in our fireplace, a sweet smile, a good joke, the smell of rain and the words, “You are going to get through this.”
And it occurred to me, as I was submerged in this crisis, clinging to small gratitudes, that those beautiful moments could become the building blocks for the great poem of my life. I picked myself up, I got down to business. I started a company. I drenched it in my soul. I live what I believe. Even when it’s hard. And this is my poem.
When it’s all said and done and your obituary is written…what will it say? Will it say that he or she punched the clock right on time, never missed an appointment and got a perfect score on the big test? Or will it say that you danced in the rain, loved BIG, went out of your way to help others, stood for something, wouldn’t fall in line, made people laugh until milk came out their noses, and changed the world?
If you strive to make your “very flesh a great poem” what magnificence can you achieve?