I am not a poet. But when my son was injured in a hockey game this week, it seeded an odd inspiration to write a poem about an important life lesson. Pain and disappointment are part of the human experience, an inevitable part of life. I witness this on almost a daily basis because of my work in human rights, but I also know it as a person who has sometimes experienced it. I want my son to understand that, while many things are outside of his control, how he responds to adversity is almost always within his control. I want him to know that learning from his disappointment will build courage and resilience – “sharp edges” for life.
I am not a poet, but, in truth, anyone can write a poem. I hope you enjoy it.
The Radius of Hollow
Two players collided at
Mad hockey speed.
Fully padded – protected – and yet
My son was cut open.
Steel blade freshly sharpened,
One swift, true stroke that
Slashed through the sock,
Bit hungrily into his tender skin.
My own son, down
On his knees in the cold.
A supplicant pleading.
Blood pumped out and
His white sock bloomed crimson.
His heart’s blood,
Congealed dark on the ice.
I remembered his tears,
That morning they posted the team.
His name was not there.
He was in.
In a flash,
He was out.
He was the last to be cut.
A skate’s blade has twin edges.
In the center, a valley:
The radius of hollow.
Dull edges, you fall.
Yet sharp edges require
A rift through the core,
This concave depression.
The radius of hollow is what gives you control.
No need for stitches, coach said.
It’s not deep. But it hurts.
Violet and sallow-green blossoms on pale skin.
An angry contusion that will resolve.
Rough edges of torn flesh
Up! Back on the ice, my son!
These wounds will heal.
You’ve heard ’em all before. Clichés are a popular form of expression used throughout the world. There are many sayings that are so overused that we barely even notice them anymore. I started to think about clichés recently because of The Loud Talking Salesman guy who works in the office next to mine. He seems to speak entirely in clichés. The wall must be thin, because all day long I hear him on the phone with clients telling them that “at the end of the day” “it’s a win-win situation” etc etc. (I’ve never met him, but if I ever do, I’ve already planned what I’m going to say: “Working hard?” To which he will most certainly reply, “Hardly working!”)
Once I started actually paying attention clichés, I noticed that we are not only constantly verbally but also visually blasted with them. Clichés are plastered all over the place, on everything from bumper stickers to throw pillows to Pintrest. Some clichés are silly or sappy or just plan wrong. But if you stop and think about it, some of them make a whole lot of sense.
Many clichés are, in fact, the moral equivalent of Tootsie Pops – they have a sweet, chewy truth at their center. Some of them are actually pithy, shorthand statements of deep wisdom. Some clichés embody true lessons about living an ethical, fulfilling, righteous and joyful life in community with other humans. In some ways, these clichés are shorthand for the life lessons that I am trying to teach my children so that they will grow up to be citizens of the world, fully empowered to exercise both their rights and their responsibilities.
So on the theory that“The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice,” I decided to write down some of the clichés that I want my kids to actually remember and use when I’m no longer around to nag them.
“From those to whom much is given, much is expected.”
One of the most misquoted sayings of all time, I’ve seen this clichés attributed to everyone from Voltaire to Bill Gates’s mom. While John F. Kennedy did say, “For of those to whom much is given, much is required,” the saying actually comes from the Parable of the Faithful Servant (Luke 12:48) in the Bible. “To whomever much is given, of him will much be required; and to whom much was entrusted, of him more will be asked.”
The point for my children is this – you have been blessed with intelligence, a loving family, comfortable home, health and so much more. You each have different talents and strengths. It is your responsibility to use your gifts not just for your own benefit, but also to help others.
“You are what you eat.”
If you eat garbage, you feel like garbage. I’m serious – eat your fruits and veggies, kids!
“Think before you speak.”
Or send an email or post something through social media. Count to 10 in your mind before you open your mouth. Write it out, but wait until the morning to send that email. Hurtful words, once said, are hard to take back. Of course, the corollaries to this cliché are:
“If you can’t say something nice about someone, don’t say anything at all.”
“If you are thinking something nice about someone, go ahead and say it.”
OK, that last one is technically not a cliché since it is not overused. I count it as half cliché since I made it up myself when I was 18. I was a camp counselor and I lived in a cabin with another counselor that I didn’t get along with particularly well. But one day, when I was brushing my teeth, I heard her singing in the shower. She had a beautiful voice that I had never noticed. As I brushed my teeth, I remember thinking that I should just tell her. Why keep those nice thoughts to myself just because I we didn’t like each other? It was hard for me, but I did tell her. I was surprised how appreciative she was at the compliment. And while we never became friends, we did get along fine for the rest of the summer.
“Be the change you want to see in the world.”
Don’t just sit around wishing or waiting for things to change things. YOU can create change yourself through your own actions. (This quote is usually attributed to Mahatma Gandhi, although there is no reliable evidence that he actually said it. Gandhi did say “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. … We need not wait to see what others do.”)
It’s worth pointing out that Dr. Seuss wrote the same thing more directly in The Lorax: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, Nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”
“Don’t Postpone Joy”
No, I don’t mean the “go ahead and buy those really expensive shoes to make yourself happy” kind of joy (although it is important to treat yourself somtimes. I mean the “Daddy quit his job and moved to Minneapolis to be with me” kind of joy. Because your Daddy did do that. He didn’t have a dramatic boombox scene like Lloyd Dobler in Say Anything, but it was the same kind of going after love and joy thing. (This reminds me to add Say Anything to my list of Movies I Want My Kids to See.)
And while we are on the subject:
‘Tis better to have loved and lost, Than never to have loved at all.
I know that this one is often up for debate, but I think it is true. Even if your heart ends up getting broken in the end, the experience of loving another is worth it. It is worth taking a risk.
“The best way out is always through.”
Robert Frost is credited with this one. Rather than avoiding a problem, it is always best to confront it directly. You can spend more energy fretting about it than it would take to just deal with it. In the long run, it is less painful to just do what you need to do to get through it.
“A good laugh and a long sleep are the two best cures for anything.”
I don’t have much to say about this one other than I believe it in, deep down in my bones. The same goes the the next one:
“Speak the truth, even if your voice shakes.”
“Better late than never.”
It’s never to late to fix past wrongs. Remember Darth Vader and what happens at the end of Star Wars Episode VI? Redemption. But it is also never to late to go down a different path. Every day has the potential to be a fresh start. As George Eliot wrote, “It is never too late to be what you might have been.”
“Always look on the bright side of life.”
It’s been my experience that a positive attitude really does help you in life. Everyone gets down and has rough patches; that’s perfectly understandable. You don’t have to be cheerful all the time. But in the macro sense, try to be an optimist. It’s a worldview that will get your farther in the long run. As Sir Winston Churchill once said, “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity. An optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.
I’ve got more clichés I want my kids to live by, but I’d love to hear from others about clichés that hold important life lessons for them. I will end with, not a cliché, but a quote from A. A. Milne. Christopher Robin is talking to Winnie-the-Pooh and he says (in your mother’s voice):
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