In my senior year of high school, Ms. Larden, my English teacher, had us each select a poet to study on our own. I spent a very, very long afternoon in Barnes and Noble that weekend. I wanted to select the perfect poet for the assignment. I was eager to read an entire collection on my own, eager to have to work to find meaning without a teacher explaining the symbols and metaphors. Finally, after several hours of searching, I selected my favorite from the stacks, Wendall Berry.
The Peace of Wild Things
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
It is only now, years later, that I realize why my English teacher gave us this assignment. When the world is unexplainable, when sadness is paralyzing, when we seem to have every reason to expect the worst...the right words have such meaning at those times. I cannot even begin to imagine the grief of those that have lost a family member or a friend. The sorrow I feel is not even a fraction of that pain.
But I wanted to share Berry's words because I think they are powerful enough to calm. Because I have to believe there is still grace in the world. I have to believe that it is still possible to find peace, even if only temporarily and only sometimes. I wanted to share the words because they remind me that we have to make meaning from our own lives; they reminded me of sitting on a bookstore floor at seventeen and trying to do just that--find a meaning. They reminded me that I'm scared, but that I'm connected to other life both because of and despite those fears. The words made me feel small, which I am, but they did not make me feel irrelevant. Sharing the poem helped me say "I'm sorry this happened."
I hope we can all find a place to rest tonight.