I remember when I first discovered my dad’s love of poetry. I was struggling with my homework, voicing my frustration with audible groans and sighs.
“What are you working on?” he asked.
“Analyzing poems for English,” I grumbled.
“‘Thanatopsis’,” I said, convinced that the title alone would elicit sympathy.
He closed his eyes and smiled. “To him who, in the love of Nature, holds/Communion with her visible forms she speaks/A various language…”
My petulance melted into awe as he quoted several stanzas by memory. “It’s one of my favorites,” he said.
Though I knew the poem was old, somehow my teenaged perspective considered it a new misery conjured by my teacher to torment the students. No one had been asked to read something so difficult. No one had ever had to deal with such convoluted language. The idea that students had been studying these words for years had not occurred to me. That someone would memorize it for pleasure blew my mind.
The ground shifted under my feet as I listened to my dad.
Since then, I’ve developed my own love affair with words–the way they can shock or soothe, connect minds and hearts, or just they way they roll around on the tongue. I’ve played on the screen and on paper, switching here and there, learning how to manipulate the meanings and effect. The sheer miracle of the written word has captivated me.
My dad says that I have a gift. How easy it was for me as a naive young adult to spin his admiration into some sort of glamorous destiny.
It didn’t take long for me to realize that I’m not really that gifted, nor was I destined for fame as a writer. In Sue Marchant’s essay “I’m a Yamaha,” she describes the effect of learning a similar truth about her singing voice. Her teacher told her, “Some people have Steinways…Other people have cheap little Casio keyboards. You, I think, have a very nice, serviceable little Yamaha.”
Even though she already knew her voice was not Broadway caliber, it was crushing to hear a definitive pronouncement.
Nice. Serviceable. These words are not the stuff of dreams.
I can relate. I’ve wondered what purpose gifts should serve–are they supposed to be directive, signalling what we should do with our lives? What about less quantifiable gifts? Why do we seem to value some gifts over others?
I’ve always liked this quote. I believe that everyone has greatness within them, and that anything is possible with hard work. But I also know we can’t all be gorgeous and talented in the superlative sense.
And that’s when my thoughts circle around to my dad. He is gifted, though not recognized. Yet his gifts had a profound influence on me and helped me discover my own. If I had ever been labeled as a Yamaha, he would have said that Yamahas were what he enjoyed more than anything else. In his eyes, I am glorious.
What a gift.
If I can use my gifts to benefit those around me in a similar way, I’ll feel extremely fortunate. Thank heaven for a loving God who bestows gifts so abundantly–gifts that enrich our lives and enable us to bless others.
Thanks Dad, for memorizing that poem.
Happy Father’s Day.