Sometimes, when there are no words that you can say, when your hands are empty, you take onto your lips the words of another.
That’s the way it’s always been for me. When my prayers are weak, I pray the words of Jesus: “Our Father, who art in heaven…” Or the words of those English Christians whose prayers were almost poetry: “O Lord, make haste to help me.” For the next couple weeks, I am going to share a few poems that have been my companions, that have made me feel not alone, as I hurt and as I healed.
I have never been one for Pollyanna thinking, never a fan of having your best life NOW!, never one to ply cheap gratitude. But somehow saying “thank you” has always seemed right, not for the darkness but in it. If anything, it was a protest against the darkness, a declaration that I will not be owned by this.
I read W.S. Merwin’s “Thanks” for the first time in the introduction to Anne Lamott’s Traveling Mercies. I had transferred to a new college as a junior, awkwardly wedged between the upperclassmen who had sorted themselves into groups of friends and the wide-eyed freshmen who knew nothing about college. I cried in the shower and felt my heart race and the world go dark. I panicked about three questions missed on a quiz. I called my old university and asked if I could get my scholarship back.
When I look back at it, I could see depression, the trickster, begin to follow me. But I also see the first seeds of healing. I took up Merwin’s words, beautiful and bleak, onto my lips. In these words, the light and dark danced together, a chiaroscuro. Just as they did in life.
Thank you, I said. Thank you for the light, even when it casts so many shadows. So I thanked then and I thank now, even when it seems there is no one listening, even when things are bleak, even when I can’t tell what I am thanking for. Thank you, dark though it is.