“Everything is Waiting for You”

I’m writing this tonight from the kitchen table. There are cookies baking in the oven, in preparation for a holiday party at my office in a few days. If you know me, you know that my Christmas cookies are the stuff of legend. I don’t say this to brag – and maybe some of my readers will comment and back me up – but to highlight the fact that here, my baking is not quite up to par. It may be the ingredients or the oven or the (lack of) altitude or some combination of factors. But for some reason, everything I have tried to make here is just a little…off.

I suspect that the run-up to the holidays can make all of us feel a little “off”, too. Not quite ourselves. Not happy with how we are acting, how we treat those we love. Wanting to be calmer, more patient, more generous, more aware. Desperate for deeper connections to counter a world that seems, at least for the next few weeks, grossly commercial and superficial.

As I said recently, I often turn to writers – especially poets – when life tosses me around and I need something solid to hold on to. In the past few months, English poet David Whyte has been by my side. First, it was hisĀ  book Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words. I wrote about it in October and I can’t stop returning to it. Give yourself an early Christmas gift and read it.

Tonight, though, as I sat here with my slightly “off” cookies and my equally “off” self, it was Whyte’s poetry that threw me a lifeline and shook me awake . And since I cannot share the cookies, I offer the poem to you, and invite you to “ease into the conversation” however you like and with whomever you need.

You can listen to Whyte read the poem here; I love his voice and the repetition of certain phrases, especially at the end. Or read it slowly to yourself, in your own voice, and let your alertness grow, your aloneness dissipate.

Everything, everything, everything is waiting for you.

Everything is Waiting for You

Your great mistake is to act the drama
as if you were alone. As if life
were a progressive and cunning crime
with no witness to the tiny hidden
transgressions. To feel abandoned is to deny
the intimacy of your surroundings. Surely,
even you, at times, have felt the grand array;
the swelling presence, and the chorus, crowding
out your solo voice. You must note
the way the soap dish enables you,
or the window latch grants you freedom.
Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity.
The stairs are your mentor of things
to come, the doors have always been there
to frighten you and invite you,
and the tiny speaker in the phone
is your dream-ladder to divinity.

Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into
the conversation. The kettle is singing
even as it pours you a drink, the cooking pots
have left their arrogant aloofness and
seen the good in you at last. All the birds
and creatures of the world are unutterably
themselves. Everything is waiting for you.

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Words and pictures

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The Blue Mosque seen from a window at the Hagia Sophia

Thanks to the brilliant Maria Popova over at Brain Pickings, I recently started reading David Whyte’s gorgeous book Consolations: the Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words. Whyte, an English poet, has selected 52 words, from ambition to courage to procrastination, and offers brief but profound reflections on each. And there, in the middle of the table of contents, among virtues and vices, I see this word: Istanbul.

A few weeks ago I had the chance to make my first visit to Istanbul, meeting up with a dear friend at the start of her 6-week travel adventure (hi, Ellen!). It is a fascinating place, unlike anywhere I’d ever been before. The mix of secular and religious, the astounding history, the sounds of the call to prayer, the ancientness of it all – these combine to create a sensory experience that requires your full attention. It threatens to overwhelm but can also be sheer delight, (especially if you wander into a hamam).

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Istanbul from the rooftops of the Grand Bazaar.

Istanbul is a place that is hard to describe, hard to summarize or explain to others. But Whyte manages to do it beautifully:

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Galata Tower (in the distance) and the changing Istanbul skyline.

“The piles of pomegranates, the heaps of turmeric and the wafted scent of saffron from the stalls remind us we are never just one thing, never just one set of senses, that we are no one name, we are Constantinople and Istanbul and even Stanboul and we have carried the frontier between the past and the present with us all our lives…we live now but all our history and even our future is already occurring even as we walk the street, fading into the jubilant evening light of a day, strangely and even reluctantly, already beginning to end.”