Antonio Machado was a Spanish poet who lived from 1875 to 1939. I discovered his work when a friend of mine – a retired bishop who taught me at Notre Dame – read one of his poems in class. It was 1996 and the instructor encouraged us all to memorize a poem that spoke to us. I had chosen David Wagoner’s Lost, which is a powerful metaphor for all that was going on in my life at the time. I can still recite the work by heart and I think about it every now and then, especially the first few lines: Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here…
The poet still speaks to me through those words.
But recently, I have rediscovered Machado’s work – especially, his powerful poetic challenge, The Wind One Brilliant Day. The poem, quite simply, is a clarion call to each of us in these troubled times.
The wind, one brilliant day, called
to my soul with an odor of jasmine.
‘In return for the odor of my jasmine,
I’d like all the odor of your roses.’
‘I have no roses; all the flowers
in my garden are dead.’
‘Well then, I’ll take the withered petals
and the yellow leaves and the waters of the fountain.’
The wind left. And I wept. And I said to myself:
‘What have you done with the garden that was entrusted to you?’
We are given so much and often we do not take the care we should – with the environment, the people we meet, the trust that is placed upon us, our children, our friends, the reputation of our coworkers, our faith. The fragility of so many things can be overwhelming and we can fee strangled by the violence of busyness. We forget that everything is gift. It is all unmerited grace. Indeed, what are we doing with the gifts entrusted to us? What am I doing to make sure the garden grows to fullness and life and beauty?
What will our answer be when the wind asks for that which we cannot give? Will we have anything to offer at all?
Or will we weep in sadness having tended the garden so carelessly?
I am spending this week chaperoning a leadership camp for high school students. Sleeping on a bed built by the Quickcrete company, I find myself watching the stellar group of college students lead the high school participants. Except that I am a full-fledged adult, they do not really need me, these young people are gifted beyond most and are clearly able to set a good example for the younger students.
Last night, as we were gathering for night prayer, one of the young adults read a poem which was then given to all the participants. In addition, the students were given a popsicle stick with their name on it, a physical representation of the “dash” about which the poet speaks. It’s a good challenge for all of us this week: what will we do with our dash?
I read of a man who stood to speak
At the funeral of a friend
He referred to the dates on her tombstone
From the beginning to the end
He noted that first came the date of her birth
And spoke the following date with tears,
But he said what mattered most of all
Was the dash between those years.
For that dash represents all the time
That she spends alive on earth.
And now only those who loved her
Know what that little line is worth.
For it matters not how much we own;
The cars, the house, the cash,
What matters is how we live and love
And how we spend our dash.
So think about this long and hard.
Are there things you’d like to change?
For you never know how much time is left,
That can still be rearranged.
If we could just slow down enough
To consider what’s true and real
And always try to understand
The way other people feel.
And be less quick to anger,
And show appreciation more
And love the people in our lives.
Like we’ve never loved before.
If we treat each other with respect,
And more often wear a smile
Remembering that this special dash
Might only last a little while.
So, when your eulogy is being read
With your life’s actions to rehash
Would you be proud of the things they say
About how you spent your dash?
~ Linda Ellis
The acting out of love to the extent of dying on a cross is a mystery I have never been fully able to understand. My limited ability to love stands embarrassed at such extravagance. My daily attempt falls short of my dreams. I carry my crosses carefully, trying to make sure they don’t take too much out of me.
I always leave a little pink around the edges of my crosses. I can not bear unpleasant things. I honestly don’t know how Jesus did it! I can hardly accept WHY he did it. The why he did it always makes me feel guilty about the pink around the edges.
During Lent, at least, I’d like to let the pink go. I’d like to be content for forty days with a cross that is not pretty. But I am so young in my faith. It is hard not to cheat a little and search for soft, easy, pretty crosses.
O God of Lent, remember me. Help me to take all the clutter that I try to decorate my crosses with, all the ways I try to camouflage your death and dying because my faith has not grown enough and to look at death as it really is: an emptiness that brings me face to face with LIFE.
And yet, within my fragile, questioning heart I know that if I would ever dare get close enough to dying, to death, it would fall over into life.
O God of Lent, Your love has opened my eyes. It is my own pink-edged crosses that have broken my heart.
But your cross has saved me.
from Seasons of Your Heart
‘Twas the week before Christmas
And all over the place
Stare us right in the face
The shopping’s not done
The wrapping – forget it
The living room, once clean,
Looks like a hurricane hit it
The tree is up,
So is the wreath.
It will all come together
By the skin of our teeth
But it snowed this weekend,
Our first in this state
Five inches in all
The kids couldn’t wait
To go out and play
And sled down the hill
And then sit by the fire
To shake off the chill
So the troops are quite happy
School’s almost done
Then we celebrate Christmas
And the birth of the Son
Who brings us great Joy
And good will and His peace
May He live in your hearts
With a love that won’t cease
May your week be quite blessed
And your halls be all decked
May your list be all finished
Your to-dos all checked
May the Love that we celebrate
Warm your heart and your home
May you take the spirit of Christmas
Wherever you roam