On Tuesday’s post, a reader comment reminded me of this passage from a Stephen King short story:
The most important things are the hardest things to say. They are the things that you get ashamed of, because words diminish them— words shrink things that seemed limitless when they were in your head to no more than living size when they’re brought out. But it’s more than that, isn’t it? The most important things lie too close to wherever your secret heart is buried, like landmarks to a treasure your enemies would love to steal away. And you may make revelations that cost you dearly only to have people look at you in a funny way, not understanding what you’ve said at all, or why you thought it was so important that you almost cried while you were saying it. That’s the worst, I think, when the secret stays locked within—not for want of a teller— but for want of an understanding ear.
Stephen King, Different Seasons, The Body
Whe I came across that passage in early high school, it so resonated with me that I held onto it. It was like a crucible. Stephen King had poignantly captured how I felt, what I thought. That’s what I’m scared of, I remember thinking, not having an understanding ear- myself- or an understanding ear to hear me in my life. I kept the passage close to me (so close that I still know where to find it 20 years later).
The truth is, King’s quote wasn’t the first that resonated with me in that way. I have had many theme songs, poems, etc over the years– slices of words put out there by someone before me that captured who I was and where I was at the time I discovered it. In high school, my other themes were songs penned or performed by Tracy Chapman, the Indigo Girls, and REM. In college, my theme was Desiderata, written by Max Ehrmann in 1952. It began..
Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.
For some of my twenties, my theme was The Invitation by Oriah Mountain Dreamer which read, in part,
It doesn’t interest me if the story you are telling me
I want to know if you can
to be true to yourself.
If you can bear the accusation of betrayal
and not betray your own soul…
I want to know if you can see Beauty
even when it is not pretty
And if you can source your own life
from its presence.
In my late twenties, I ached over the gorgeousness of Wild Geese by Mary Oliver. Specifically, these lines got me every time…
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves…
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
Being reminded of the King quote the other day sent me in search of all of my past themes and re-reading them gave me such a sense of calm in the midst of the frenetic pace of back to school. A theme, it seems, still serves me well after all these years. Having one can be a touch stone. A place to return to when you need centering and grounding. A simple reminder at your core of who you are, a meditation, an entry way back into yourself when you feel askew.
Do you have a theme or have you had one in the past? Is there- or has there been- a song or poem in your life that rang so true for you that you wish you had composed it yourself?