Moving Forward

Last night President Obama commemorated the sixth anniversary with a State Of The Union address full of his inspiring, soaring rhetoric and packed with his trademark high-minded idealism. You can watch it here.

The magnitude of this man and all he represents being elected President of the United States in 2008 continues to reverberate, like the peal of bell echoing across the years, in ways that I think will take decades to unfold. Packed in those reverberations are the best and worse of us.

Today I’m quietly celebrating another six-year span of time. On January 21, 2009, I had a bilateral mastectomy. This came after four months of chemotherapy, so it wasn’t an opening salvo into the cancer world. I knew what they’d find: remnants of an 8 cm tumor. What was left behind is light-years away from any definition of beauty. It survives as a both permanent reminder of a dark year and as a celebration of triumph.

That bell continues to ring, although sometimes now I have to strain to hear the echoes. While there’s no detectable cancer in my body, the black days live on in my mind. One important lesson of the last year is this – trauma is forever. You can’t decide to get over it. You certainly can’t dictate coping time frames to others. I think compassion is the lesson.

I’d like to impart my wisdom – an easy-to-follow five step plan to get from your metaphorical 2009 to 2015. But the truth is that I haven’t done anything magical or even particularly noteworthy in those years. Reading MLK quotes on Monday, this one jumped out at me.

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That’s the only way to do it.

One of my favorite parts of President Obama’s inauguration was the poet Elizabeth Alexander. Long time readers know that I frequently reference this poem. I loved it because she celebrated the ordinary within the context of the historic. The juxtaposition of the profound and the mundane speaks to my condition.

We walk down the streets, we pick up pencils, we do the everyday work we’ve chosen to do in the shadows of all that came before; on the edge of possibility of all that is yet to be done.

No matter what your circumstances, accomplishments, or challenges, this is our shared reality.

Remembering that the mightiest word is love, every day we can choose to walk forward into the light.

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Praise Song for the Day
Elizabeth Alexander

A Poem for Barack Obama’s Presidential Inauguration

Each day we go about our business,
walking past each other, catching each other’s
eyes or not, about to speak or speaking.

All about us is noise. All about us is
noise and bramble, thorn and din, each
one of our ancestors on our tongues.

Someone is stitching up a hem, darning
a hole in a uniform, patching a tire,
repairing the things in need of repair.

Someone is trying to make music somewhere,
with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum,
with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.

A woman and her son wait for the bus.
A farmer considers the changing sky.
A teacher says, Take out your pencils. Begin.

We encounter each other in words, words
spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed,
words to consider, reconsider.

We cross dirt roads and highways that mark
the will of some one and then others, who said
I need to see what’s on the other side.

I know there’s something better down the road.
We need to find a place where we are safe.
We walk into that which we cannot yet see.

Say it plain: that many have died for this day.
Sing the names of the dead who brought us here,
who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges,

picked the cotton and the lettuce, built
brick by brick the glittering edifices
they would then keep clean and work inside of.

Praise song for struggle, praise song for the day.
Praise song for every hand-lettered sign,
the figuring-it-out at kitchen tables.

Some live by love thy neighbor as thyself,
others by first do no harm or take no more
than you need. What if the mightiest word is love?

Love beyond marital, filial, national,
love that casts a widening pool of light,
love with no need to pre-empt grievance.

In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air,
any thing can be made, any sentence begun.
On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp,

praise song for walking forward in that light.

3 thoughts on “Moving Forward”

  1. Somehow I had missed reading this poem the past 6 years! Thanks for sharing it, it’s beautiful.

    You are right: the trauma of cancer IS forever. And we can’t just *decide* to get over it. great post.

  2. Choosing to move oneself forward…good. Forcing others to move in same ‘forward’ direction…not good.

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