Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Living Life as a Poem

“You know I think the tendency of one’s life is to harden into commonplace living. We ought to struggle against it, for surely the world about us is a living poem, and every one has the power to make life a living poem or else a dead letter.”

This is a quote from Anna Leonowens, of The King and I fame, to her daughter in 1880. I came across it in an excellent biography I just finished of Anna called Bombay Anna.

I love this quote firstly because it shows the character this woman had. This was a woman who adventured around the globe, finding success for herself and her children, at a time when it was rare for a woman to do so. I admire her curiosity, her intellect, her adaptability.

I also feel a certain kinship with her. I share her desire to question social norms, to travel the world, to learn and to write. It was a fear of the commonplace, of the boring routine of the lack of challenge of living where I knew and understood how everything worked that drew me overseas and kept me going back.

Now that I have a 9-month-old child and a husband, I’m tied to my home country in a way I never was before. I can still travel, and I have, even with baby. But it’s more difficult for me to live overseas for long periods. I’m at much greater risk for hardening into commonplace living.

I thought I’d be unhappy living in a small town where I rarely see anything too surprising when I walk outside. During my first few months here, while pregnant with River, I wasn’t very happy. I did appreciate a lot of things – the gyms, the safety, the length of the colored-leaf season. But I also felt bored.

Now that River is here, I’m surprised to find that I don’t mind living here too much. A trip to someplace new every couple of months helps. But I think what helps most is River’s ability to remind me of things I long since stopped noticing. The way he finds newness in the commonplace is similar to what I found by landing in a foreign land. By seeing this place through his eyes, I can once again appreciate the excitement of a door lock, a 7-month old withered balloon, a leaf, a man cutting tree limbs hanging over the road.

That said, I am concerned about how I’ll continue to live a living poem. River is a big part of my poem for now, a beautiful lyric song. I appreciate the nature that surrounds me, my family, the people I’ve met, the details of a sprig of flowers or the construction of a church. However, to fully live out a poem, I know I need to be involved in the issues that drive me – poverty alleviation, economic development, equality, social policy, literature, health. I have to find a new way to contribute my skills to the world, to live and to learn, to be a good mother and to feel fulfilled. I have to remember that life offers far more beyond the commonplace and it's up to me to find a way to grasp it.

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