A Poem for Your Journey

Watts Towers in Los Angeles, built by Simon Rodia.

Watts Towers in Los Angeles, built by Simon Rodia.

Counting down to New Year, choosing who you will be in 2014, trying to find that special word to be your amulet–it can all be a bit confusing. “I want to be a better me” is hard to define in specific terms. We can’t shed our skins like a snake and become someone new. Even the snake stays a snake. A bigger, stronger snake once the skin is shed, but still a snake.

Detail of the Watts Towers, made of cement and broken pottery, found and discarded objects.

Detail of the Watts Towers, made of cement and broken pottery, found and discarded objects.

Frankly, I wouldn’t even want to create a whole new me.  I like the dinged, battered, missing-perfect-by-a-mile me I’ve become, because working on what you are with what you’ve got makes you more interesting. And more honest. And certainly more sturdy and vulnerable.  I’d rather be a Watts Tower than the Dubai Building (the tallest building in Qatar).

Being who you are is hard work. No pretense, no hiding behind a new model, a new name, a new location, just recognizing what you can and can’t do is more than a year’s worth of work.


The Dubai building in Qatar.

I’m still working on the final draft, but one of my big recognitions in 2013 is that I am not a healer. Don’t want to be one. Most likely I am a teacher. Even that seems too big a burden sometimes–to claim expertise in something. It’s also possible I am a witness to other people’s stories. At best, I help them edit them, keeping what is useful, and culling out the misery and pain that holds them back from knowing who they want to be. That’s why I wrote the Inner Hero book.

So while you are figuring out who you are, too, here is a poem by Mary Oliver struck me as being perfect for the work behind and the work to come.

The Journey

by Mary Oliver

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice—
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world
determined to do
the only thing you could do—
determined to save
the only life you could save.

-Quinn McDonald is still figuring out who she is.