Words of Hope

Chicago, IL
Poetry Foundation Summer Institute for Teachers

My first encounter with Naomi Shihab Nye in person was at the beginning of my teaching career over 20 years ago. She was invited to present to a group of teachers. I’m not sure I was in the group that was specifically invited, but I felt inspired to go. So I did and have never been the same since.

On that summer visit, Naomi stayed in a bed and breakfast and slept in a room that Thomas Jefferson had once occupied in Fairfax, VA. She spoke in awe of the feeling she had being in that room. I’ve never forgotten the way I felt as she described her experience. It was July when our minds are often turned to freedom, to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. But that wasn’t the thing that changed me.

What changed me was a small act of kindness. Here’s how it happened. Naomi encouraged each of us to find our own poetic voices. At that time, I had written exactly one poem. She had generously shared her email address with us, so I shared my one poem with her. She emailed me back! As a new teacher, she empowered me through her kind response. I felt something grow inside me. Ever since that exchange, I have remembered the strength and gentleness in her voice, her passion for peace, and her outrage at injustice. But what I remember most is that she made me feel like I was worth something, just by being another human being.

Today, I had my second opportunity to be taught by Naomi face-to-face. She talked about how our writing notebooks may turn out to be the great achievement of our lives. She encouraged us to write just 3 lines a day. She said, “Over time, a poem might appear that you didn’t even know you were carrying.”

This was the nudge that changed me 20+ years ago. It was the nudge I needed today. She said that we all deserve more poetry in our lives because poetry creates more expansive spaces in which we can live. Poetry lingers in the air after the words are spoken. There is magic and mystery in poetry that can’t be explained, and it’s supposed to be like that. I’m so grateful.

A favorite line from her talk today: “I’ve never been any place where poetry did not want to live more.” To me, the converse could also be true. Poetry is a place that makes me want to live more–to pause, to observe, to treasure, and create. These words of encouragement and hope lifted my spirits and gave me energy that I hope to bring back to my students in just a few short weeks.

2nd Tuesday in April

Today’s quote on TWO WRITING TEACHERS could not have been more perfect in expressing my feelings. I’ve copied it here. Thank you to the person who created the quote and image and to Jacqueline Woodson for these true words.


I think these words could describe Love. Family. Spring. Learning. Peace. All the parts of life that I hold dear seem to come softly and leave too soon. I don’t think I’ve always believed this. Probably, in my busiest days of raising five children while working and going to school, time bulldozed through the days and I longed for some quiet, alone time. Now that I have more time alone, time seems fuzzy around the edges as memories blur.

Why so pensive, you ask?

Today my daughter and her husband cut baby Johnny’s hair. This first haircut was a rite of passage I wasn’t ready for. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Maybe I, more than anyone, wanted him to stay a baby just a little longer. Somehow, I imagine the snip of scissors on his baby-fine hair has made the clock tick faster and louder. And just like that, he’ll be grown.

Johnny's first haircut 4-9-19

A Path

Another March of writing is coming to an end. Again, I’m changed. At the end of this month, I feel more than ever that I’m just beginning on this writing path. Like you, I have tried to be an observer, a listener, and to dig deep for the messages and stories that I need to say and tell.

Today I enjoyed “Santiago” by David Whyte. It’s interesting that as he recites the poem, he repeats phrases and lines as if to allow the listener to really process the power of the words. I hope you will enjoy a few moments and ponder what this poem has to say to you.

You can listen here.

Here is the text, “Santiago” by David Whyte:

The road seen, then not seen, the hillside

hiding then revealing the way you should take,

the road dropping away from you as if leaving you

to walk on thin air, then catching you, holding you up,

when you thought you would fall,

and the way forward always in the end

the way that you followed, the way that carried you

into your future, that brought you to this place,

no matter that it sometimes took your promise from you,

no matter that it had to break your heart along the way:

the sense of having walked from far inside yourself

out into the revelation, to have risked yourself

for something that seemed to stand both inside you

and far beyond you, that called you back

to the only road in the end you could follow, walking

as you did, in your rags of love and speaking in the voice

that by night became a prayer for safe arrival,

so that one day you realized that what you wanted

had already happened long ago and in the dwelling place

you had lived in before you began,

and that every step along the way, you had carried

the heart and the mind and the promise

that first set you off and drew you on and that you were

more marvelous in your simple wish to find a way

than the gilded roofs of any destination you could reach:

as if, all along, you had thought the end point might be a city

with golden towers, and cheering crowds,

and turning the corner at what you thought was the end

of the road, you found just a simple reflection,

and a clear revelation beneath the face looking back

and beneath it another invitation, all in one glimpse:

like a person and a place you had sought forever,

like a broad field of freedom that beckoned you beyond;

like another life, and the road still stretching on.

This text was copied from: http://www.pauljhowell.com/poetry-1/santiago-david-whyte/2015/12/24

Following a path of writing, of introspection, of learning has become so important to me and I have come to deeply appreciate this TWO WRITING TEACHERS community for the gift of a place to safely enter the “broad field of freedom” that beckons us to share with each other and find our best selves.

Blessings to all.


Sometimes I need the big ideas of life and love to get me through the day. The light that comes from scientists, artists, poets, spiritual leaders, and thinkers helps me face the dishes and laundry. I’m leaning on these quotes from Carl Sagan today:

“For small creatures such as we the vastness is bearable only through love.”

“The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff.”

“The beauty of a living thing is not the atoms that go into it, but the way those atoms are put together.” 

“Every one of us is, in the cosmic perspective, precious . . . In a hundred billion galaxies, you will not find another.” 

We all matter. Each has a place and there’s welcome and room enough for all. That’s my message to myself, my family, and everyone on this planet. Now, I must try to do better each day to treat others with loving kindness.


Sometimes a Form Helps

After reading slices for more time than I’ll openly admit, I’m going to finally write using a form that several of you have used called “Hello There.” This form is courtesy of Aggie Kesler.


I am a grandmother who loves piano, books, and needlework.

I keep buying more books and yarn than a human my age could ever read or knit.

I wish I could remember more details about my experiences and the books I read.

I love taking walks by the river especially when the bluebells are in bloom, but any time by any body of water is happy time for me.

I dance to Whitney Houston in the living room and kitchen mostly with my daughters.

I sing the hymns from memory now, so that I’ll be able to do it in another 20 years.

I think about the next phase of my life and how I’ll know when it’s time to step through that door.

I really wish I had more energy to accomplish all that I would like to accomplish.

I need new shoes, but I hate shopping.

I should eat more vegetables.

I can untie knots with a lot of patience.

I make really good cookies and used to bake bread that I can’t eat now due to a wheat allergy and gluten intolerance.

I always push snooze and wish I hadn’t.
I always say good-bye before I leave.
I always have a hug ready.


Pondering a Podcast

Sometimes it’s hard to carve out time to listen to a podcast, but I’m usually rewarded when I do. I was stuck in traffic (again) so I decided to listen to Heinemann Publishing’s podcast with Cornelius Minor. This episode caught my attention with the title “Semi-brave.”

The part that really spoke to me was when Cornelius said that no one wakes up and decides to be brave that day. He doesn’t feel it is an adjective that describes a person because no one is brave all the time. Rather, he said that bravery exists in units of time, in windows of time, and moments of choice. The brave act is in seeing a need and meeting it; saying no to someone in power over you when what they are asking does not match your beliefs (or the research) about what is best for children; in standing up for a colleague having a rough day.

Thus the idea of semi-brave is that we don’t all have power to lead marches, testify before Congress, or raise huge amounts of money to effect change. But we do all have a little bit of power in our spheres of influence where we can look at the way we spend our time and spend our love (phrase borrowed from Cornelius). We can lay out priorities and allocate our time for the things where we can make a difference.

This was a message I needed to hear today. It gave me courage to do my little bit, to have small units of time wherein I can be brave based on carefully thought out priorities.

Cornelius shared wisdom of his father who taught him that you are not what you profess to be, but you are how you spend your time. He talked about doing time audits on his daily activities and asking the hard questions about whether the use of time reflects the important deeply help values he holds.

I found this podcast very encouraging and thought-provoking. I sometimes feel bad that I’m not hopping on bandwagons, and social justice trains, but Cornelius validated the power of building relationships and staying in touch with people so that when a need comes up, you have the opportunity to be brave and step up to help.

On the Bus

The bus was nearly full
but the seat next to me remained empty.
I hoped it would stay that way.
At the last minute before departure,
A young man boarded
and sat next to me.
With the ease of youth
he unpacked an iPOD, portable DVD, a magazine, and a journal.
I could see he came prepared
for the journey ahead with private things
that said, “Please don’t talk to me.”
I suppressed my chatty nature.
I dutifully avoided eye contact
and carefully kept to my space.

when he slept
and his foot unintentionally touched mine,
I didn’t move.

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