“If you don’t know where you’re from, you’ll have a hard time saying where you’re going.” This idea from Wendell Berry suggests that our personal and family roots are very illuminating in understanding our place in the world.
I did something recently that I haven’t done before. I read aloud some poems I have written to a group of women in our church who meet weekly to discuss books and support one another in the life of the Spirit. In their invitation to me they had made it clear that they wanted to get to know me better, so I read some poems I’ve written over the years that reveal where I’m from, specifically some about the people who have significantly shaped my life, especially my grandparents.
The first poem I read was based on a poem template that author and speaker Enuma Okoro provided to a large group of United Methodist clergy who were meeting together in September 2015. I just loved how Enuma (who, by the way, is a delightful person, and with whom I enjoyed a long conversation over breakfast one morning) invited this diverse group of Christian ministers to use a template she provided to write about themselves. Then, as people read aloud their poems, it was amazing to feel the sense of our shared humanity even in the midst of very different life experiences.
The original poem called “Where I’m From,” written by poet George Ella Lyon, has provided a framework for many others to explore how their own lives have been shaped by the people who were present at formative times in their lives.
Here’s my poem titled “Where I’m From.”
I am from hay bales and milk pails,
from Lincoln Logs and prairie dogs.
I am from the creaky two-story at the end of the alley in small town U.S.A.
From evergreen forests and snow-capped mountains.
I am from singing around the piano and staying out of the spotlight,
from Sarah and Gerard, Norval and Irene.
I am from hard work and private devotion.
From boys don’t cry and swallowed tears.
I am from camp meeting and the old rugged cross.
From Holland, England and Wales.
I am from canned ham and scalloped potatoes.
I am from tides that rise and fall, from partially cloudy skies
and the heart that wanders.
I am from cornfields and desert, from the islands and the long winding road.
There are stories to be told within each of the phrases in this poem, and that is the point. Our lives are stitched together by the many meaningful interactions and relationships we have with one another and the larger stories in which our lives reside.
You might want to write a poem for yourself called “Where I’m From.” If you do, I’d love to read it!
May you have grace for your journey, Mark
Words (c) 2015 Mark Lloyd Richardson