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Let Life Happen To You

Bald eagle along the West Branch of the Delaware River

Today, in a funny juxtaposition to my solitary day of writing, I’m inspired by the energy of other people. As an introvert, this isn’t always the case - historically, I'm often overwhelmed by other people’s energy. Something has shifted for me recently, though, perhaps as a result of living on the family compound and spending a lot of time with four generations of my family, many of whom are a lot like me in personality, mannerisms, preferences, etc. This has made interactions with people outside of my immediate family more meaningful. Oh, I realize when I encounter someone who has a totally different personality, life experience, or perspective than I do. There are so many different types of people in the world. Not everyone is like me – thank God!

And so, from others, human and more-than-human alike, today and over the years, I’m reminded:

  • To love unconditionally; to exude radical compassion

  • To greet and thank the sun each morning

  • To joyfully appreciate pop music

  • To play gleefully, softly - just because

  • To be truly, fully, uniquely me

  • To try new things

  • To care deeply

I read somewhere recently that we are an average of the five people we spend the most time with. I’m not sure if I agree with that entirely, but if I look at my day today and consider more-than-human beings and writers whose words I’m reading, then today I’m a combination of: Jimminy (cat), Hank (cat), Ranier Maria Rilke (writer), my mom (writer), and myself (I’m making the executive decision to count myself here).

I’m delighted to become more acquainted with Rilke through the book Letters to a Young Poet. These two excerpts pretty much sum up where I am in my creative and spiritual life right now (emphasis added):

Everything is gestation and bringing forth. To let each impression and each germ of a feeling come to completion wholly in itself, in the dark, in the inexpressible, the unconscious, beyond the reach of one’s own intelligence, and await with deep humility and patience the birth-hour of a new clarity: that alone is living the artist’s life: in understanding as in creating.

It is…always the wish that you may find patience enough in yourself to endure, and simplicity enough to believe; that you may acquire more and more confidence in that which is difficult, and in your solitude among others. And for the rest, let life happen to you. Believe me: life is right, in any case.

Thank you, Rilke! I highly recommend reading some of his work if his words speak to you.

And of course, I’m spending time with my mom’s writing as I work on A Journey of Light. I’m thrilled to be making some progress on a second draft after receiving some very helpful feedback from my writing coach a few weeks ago. I cry at least once every time I work on it, but I also notice something new and inspiring each time. This week, it was her poem, The Eagle.

I'd recently returned to Delaware County after a 10-day stint in the Southwest. I noticed my eyes eagerly drinking in the familiar landscape and, as I walked along the river, searching the treetops for the bald eagle that is often there fishing among the bare willows. I didn’t see any for a few days. Then I came across this poem by my mom, which I had included in the first draft of the book and have now decided not to use:

The Eagle

In a season of snow, our souls frozen with the earth,

a great bald eagle ventured into this valley

winding between rounded foothills.

With pieces of open river his focus,

the valley became his.

We were the visitors,

gasping at his sight.

Each trip to town, our eyes search the spots

he’s known to visit;

the dead spruce,

the flat near the Falls,

the maple at the edge of Burton’s sugar bush. Where will he appear on this day?

What landscape will be marked by his black and white?

What piece of sky circled by his flight

as an artist of God,

given to lift our weary spirits

and touch our hungering souls.

March 1994

Susan Woodworth

On my walk the next day, my hungering soul spotted not one, but two mature bald eagles. They flew out from the lumbering willows where they had been fishing and flew to a dead tree by the river just north of me. They perched next to each other briefly, making a beautiful double silhouette against the February landscape of mostly bare valley. I told them how glad I was to see them, and thanked them for being part of this special place on Earth.

We have so much to learn from others. I’m reminded, even in the dead of winter when most of me wants to stay holed up and cozy with my cats and my family-that-is-so-much-like-me, to keep intentionally pushing my comfort zones and encountering people, animals, books, trees, streams, mountains, cats, and cacti who are different than me. They help me grow. They help me learn more about myself and how and who I want to be. And they help me more fully inhabit this mysterious, bewildering, beautiful life that is happening to me.


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