About two weeks ago I was running on the beach and had a double-take when I ran past this poem scratched into the sand by an anonymous poet.
I love this little poem. It’s nothing worthy of a Pulitzer prize but it seemed pretty fitting to find this on the beach that has been my respite, while running to pump myself up with endorphins, at a time when my wife is making huge leaps and bounds.
I’m a teacher. I don’t teach English, but I’m going to break this poem down, emphasizing a few words in the same way that an English teacher might do so in school.
The Sun. I put a lot of symbolic weight behind the sun in this blog, and I’m borrowing that from a long literary tradition. The Sun is the source of all light, and light is good, while dark is scary, unknown, non es bueno. I think my personal fixation with the sun has roots in when I was in high school. During the spring, I would get home from a day at school after sports practice and the sun would be coming through my bedroom window at just the perfect angle so that my pillow would be bathed in sunlight. I would lay down and rest my head on a pillow that felt like Mother Nature had just taken it out of the oven, temperature setting at “Perfect,” and after resting my weary head on such a warm and gentle pillow I would quite literally fall asleep on with the light in my eyes and a smile on my face. It actually goes back further, to my subconscious memories, when I was born jaundiced and my mom would have to put me in the window to get sunlight to return my skin to a more healthy tone. I see sunlight as healing, nurturing, life-affirming, and so the idea of walking on a path that meets “The Sun” implies it is the ultimate path, the best path you can take, the path like none other filled with goodness beyond your wildest dreams.
The Road. Well No Shit, Sherlock, The Road is a symbol for a journey, but not just any journey, The Journy, Your Life’s Journey. I happen to be reading Cormac McCarthy’s fantastic novel The Road right now, which is a really intense book about a really intense journey, and some of the distraught feelings about God and helplessness evoke recent memories to me, and I think of just how many times in literary history writers have evoked a road to describe the process of life. But while Cormac McCarthy’s road is buried in gray ash, in this poem The Road, the journey of your life, meets and coincides with the most nourishing and warming concept in our world. Nice.
We. Obviously this is a critical part for me. It’s my Lost Finale argument . We don’t go through life alone. We go through life with people that we love, and that love us, and that is the crux of existence. No man is an island. This year has made that my mantra. I am not alone. I am in the paradox of needing my wife, while she is the one who got sick, and so without her I never would have gone through this. This illness buried itself into her being and threw our lives into turmoil, but that being is inextricably part of my being, so I needed her just as much as her situation made me suffer. And I don’t just refer to her, although as my life partner I refer to her when I think of “We” most sincerely and frequently. There is also family, friends, and strangers who write me nice things telling me to Hang In There.
Done. This is where the poem really finds its soul.
4. completed; finished; through: Our work is done.
Synonyms: a wrap, all in, all over, brought about, brought to pass, buttoned up, compassed, complete, completed, concluded, consummated, depleted, down, drained, effected, effete, ended, executed, exhausted, fixed, fulfilled, over, perfected, performed, realized, rendered, set, spent, succeeded, terminated, through, used up, wired, wrought.
In other words, Done = The End, the glorious curtain call when the audience is thunderously applauding and showering the stage with flowers as you smile into the blinding spotlights to take a bow. So when It is Done, we are together in sacred joy. Love it.
The poem says when “it’s done,” and I think we can assume that the “It” in here refers to the shit. The bile that assaults our harmony and acceptance and has us doubled up, vomiting on life’s anxiety. But our lives are always full of anxiety. We will always be challenged. So “it’s done,” probably referes to the ultimate end, death. However, I actually don’t believe that death is The End. About 80% of the time, I believe in an afterlife, which means that death is not the ultimate end, it’s actually more like the ultimate beginning. I believe in reincarnation for about 15% of the time, which means that although we may meet one death, we will have many many more deaths to embrace, so we are far from done. And in the 5% of the time in which I dabble in nihilism, even at death what happens to my body is that we will put it into a coffin but the worms and bacteria will gnaw through and get to me and dissolve me a nutritious mush so that from my rotting carbon a new sapling can spring. Regardless of the death. Even if my wife had thrown herself over the bridge, or let’s say even I end up doing so, who knows, I mean if this could blindside her then it can blindside anyone, then we might float along and get nibbled at by fish or seals or maybe if we’re lucky a shark and in our death we still contribute to life. From ashes to ashes. So I don’t actually believe there is an ending.
So if there is no ending, and things are never Done, then that means that things are also always ending, and they are always Done. In Benedictine spirituality there is a wonderful saying “Always we begin again.” With every breath we are finishing and starting anew.
The poem starts with a line that seems to project into the future, but it’s actually pointing to right now. It already is done, even as we experience the shit that life throws our way with the next life we are done with it, and so we already are walking together on a road showered in the sunlight. We are already on our path filled with goodness beyond our wildest dreams. Even when she was in the hospital. Even when she was suicidal. Even when I’m so apathetic I don’t want to get up. At each of those moments, we are here. We are done.
I photoshopped a picture that I took and integrated the poem into it to try and best explain what I just said in a thousand words, which is how much a picture is supposedly worth.