In my small village, I am known as the local Poetry Troubadour, the person who speaks poems by heart. A curious thing happens when I speak poems, whether to one person or 100. All performance nerves vanish, and the poems flow through me without effort or self-consciousness. Even mistakes – misplaced words or forgotten lines – don’t seem to shake my assurance.
It’s even more curious because the opposite happens when I play piano for an audience, even with the conscious intention of simply sharing my love of music. Despite regular lessons with an excellent teacher, diligent practice and a wide repertoire of advanced pieces, playing for others always triggers performance nerves: I tense up, my hands shake and I have trouble breathing. My mind magnifies every mistake as proof that I am flawed.
Which I am, just like every other human being! And, just like every other human being, blessed with a natural gift – in my case, poem speaking.
And maybe, just maybe, my soul needs both. Piano playing strips away my pride in any idealized image of perfection and invites me to humbly embrace my vulnerability. Poem speaking fills me with joy that comes from grace rather than effort. Both ask to be shared.
As these thoughts turn over in my heart, Mary Oliver arrives as a guide, calling on me to show up just as I am, flawed and shining.
When I Am Among the Trees
When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.
I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.
Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.
And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.”
~ Mary Oliver