by Maria Sirois, Psy.D.
"In the haze of afternoon,
while the air flowed saffron,
I played my game for keeps"
- Stanley Kunitz, The Testing Tree
In his poem “The Testing Tree”, National Poet Laureate Stanley Kunitz reminds us of the intensity of childhood. When we chose to play our games - marbles, hide and seek, kickball - as if they mattered, our days mattered, we mattered, and what happened in those games had greater significance. We forget this sometimes as we age. We forget to play our living as if it matters, hoping instead to just get through or waiting for someone or something else to show up to hand us the meaning of our living. We allow time to pass, one Tuesday or Saturday after another as if we have all the time in the world. We find ourselves caught in cycles of wasting our time with distractions that we know at some level don't help us find our way into life itself. I believe this is what we really want: a way back into living that illuminates the days with the possibility of it all mattering.
Mattering, meaning, purpose — sometimes they do arise unbidden. I'm thinking now of those who have had something horrific or life-transformative happen to them, such as a loss of a daughter or a near-death experience. After such shocking events, we can find ourselves driven by purpose. One of the mothers of the children murdered at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, Scarlett Lewis, speaks around the country now teaching about leading from love, not anger. Jeanette Mari, the founder of Ben's Bells, created her non-profit organization to spread the building of communities and of connection through acts of kindness. She did so after the sudden death of her young son, Ben, from illness. Sometimes purpose rises fiercely and clearly.
But not always.
For many of us, we must find our way into meaning. We must actively choose to imbue the day with meanings that emerge from our smaller passions, our daily preferences or rhythms that bring about a sense of a day that is our day. Moments of mindfulness in the morning, such as lighting candles or incense and breathing peace into my body, are rituals to begin the day as if we matter. How we enter the morning matters. Planting gardens, buying just the right book for a grandchild, babysitting a friend's labradoodle or pug — each of these acts may seem simple and ordinary, and yet when they are connected to the values and passions we hold dear (such as generosity or love) they scent the day with saffron and lavender and peony. They lift our sense of ourselves and our living. They herald a day worth being alive to because we have brought what is significant to us to that morning or evening. We have crafted our day from that place within that is connected to the who of who we are and a sense of our uniqueness.
Kunitz, facing the testing tree of his childhood, an "inexhaustible oak," calls out: "Father wherever you are / I have only three throws / bless my good right arm." We don't know if he is calling out to his father, who died in his infancy, or God, or the notion of a presence larger than any one of us, but we do know he speaks the truth here. Just as we made the marbles or the seeking and finding of our friends count when we were young and life held a more infinite promise, we only have a limited amount of time to take the throws we have been given and make them count.