I was that odd, artsy girl in high school who sat cross-legged in the poetry section of Barnes and Noble. I’d grab a few of the best looking covers and pour over the words. Something in my chest would flicker like a lighter before the flame.
I can remember the first time I bought a Mary Oliver book at a little bookstore in San Francisco. I was 18 and read it cover to cover on my bed that night. It rattled my insides and verbalized truths I needed to hear. Since then I have reread Oliver’s books dozens of times, I have gifted them to countless friends, and quoted her on Instagram at a shockingly high volume. Most people don’t read poetry these days, but Mary Oliver seems to attract an audience that touches every diversity. Her deep sense of wonder, natural imagery, and accessible language invite readers from all walks of life to enter in.
I can clearly remember the day I recited a Maya Angelou poem in front of my church. I was a young girl, and had been assigned to read “Still I Rise” as a part of a summer camp program. I had always been a shy child who feared any unwanted attention. Having to stand up, front and center, before a large group of people was something I feared. Here I was, having to live one of my worst nightmares.
I stood on stage, my legs wobbling beneath me uncontrollably. As I started the first line, my voice wavered. I’ll rise. I couldn’t believe I was doing it; speaking in front of a group of people. I focused on a spot on the back wall as the words flowed from my memory. I’ll rise. For a brief second I looked away from the spot, and discovered many faces smiling back at me encouragingly. I’ll rise. I pushed through the poem, my voice getting stronger and more confident line by line. Even though at that time I didn’t understand every part of poem, I could feel the power of the words pulsing through me. I rise, I rise, I rise.
On a Sunday morning not too long ago, I was sitting at the coffee table with a cup of tea and notebook, my heart feeling extra nostalgic. I never know what I’m going to end up writing about on Sunday mornings; all I’m sure of is that when my pen hits the paper, my heart opens instantly.
I decided to take a little trip down memory lane and wrote about cherished memories – magical moments I never want to forget. I remembered the songs I wrote at 2 a.m., the faces in audiences I’ve played to, the beautiful people I’ve met. I revisited easy afternoons, singing in the car with friends and taking neighborhood walks. I also recalled more difficult moments – the shaky hands on stage, silent prayers I said so I wouldn’t forget the lyrics, second guessing myself, and the introvert in me nearly terrified of unfamiliar situations I found myself in. As I recalled these moments of uncertainty, I stopped mid-sentence and jotted down these words:
“You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” – Eleanor Roosevelt