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Friday, August 18, 2006

For the Over-Achiever

My favorite navigator, she of the not-so-little starboard heart, ponders life as an over-achiever. To you, my friend, I offer this poem in consolation. Sail on!

To Be of Use
By Marge Percy

The people I love best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half-submerged balls.

I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.

I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go to the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.

The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.

* * *

And to every navigator with searching eyes scanning the darkest night for guiding stars, I offer this exhortation from my favorite poet, Mary Oliver:


Like Magellan, let us find our islands
To die in, far from home, from anywhere
Familiar. Let us risk the wildest places,
Lest we go down in comfort, and despair.

For years we have labored over common roads,
Dreaming of ships that sail into the night.
Let us be heroes, or, if that’s not in us,
Let us find men to follow, honor-bright.

For what is life but reaching for an answer?
And what is death but a refusal to grow?
Magellan had a dream he had to follow.
The sea was big, his ships were awkward, slow.

And when the fever would not set him free,
To his thin crew, “Sail on, sail on!” he cried.
And so they did, carried the frail dream homeward.
And thus Magellan lives, although he died.

* * *

These two poems speak to the essence of a life worth living, do they not? It falls to each of us to dream our uniquely splendid and beguiling dreams, and then to strive mightily to make the dreams reality.

My own ship is awkward, slow and sinking...(sigh) one ever said it would be easy. I bail and sail, sail and bail.

I will not go down in comfort or despair!

* * *

* * *


Blogger Amaris said...

You are entirely too kind. I greatly appreciate your words of encouragement. I loved the poem, and will promptly print it out and paste it above my desk as a reminder that an ant CAN eat an elephant, if only its one bite at a time.

Tue Aug 22, 08:10:00 AM  

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