Posted by: innerpilgrimage | June 29, 2011

After a While . . .

      I know it’s been a couple of weeks since I wrote (two weeks today, actually), but I have been occupied with quite a lot. Between crochet projects for charity, reading, and even working on my Fourth Step Inventory (not complete, but progressing), I’ve been keeping busy.

      I’m rolling back in time today, to a poem that I was introduced to when I was in college for the first time. At the time, I was looking for love (in all the wrong places, as the song goes), and I could not understand how I could give and give and just keep having nothing to show for it. I was crying a lot, eating more, and partying hard on the weekends to distract myself and get myself enough liquid courage to try yet again to find love.
      It was then I was introduced to a poem that kept getting dropped into my life at random intervals. I found copies in therapy offices. I found copies online (and actually spent part of 1996 communicating with the poet, Veronica Shoffstall, and reading many other poems she wrote after that first poem). I even found a copy on a framed piece of art on my honeymoon to my first husband. I wanted to buy it very, very much, but decided against.
      Veronica’s poem, After a While (it’s also known as “Comes the Dawn”), is a powerful reminder of what love is not, of healing, of learning that truth of humanity: People are not always going to act with loving-kindness toward us and they will betray our trust (even if they believed they acted with good intentions to protect us). As David Richo said in his book, The Five Things We Cannot Change, despite this truth we can choose to act in loving-kindness and do our best to try to be as loyal and loving as we can be.
      So, beautiful poetess Veronica, who shared her thoughts with me via email for a while before we just stopped writing to each other . . . I thank you again for saving my life several times. In the darkest times of my very late teens and early twenties, I would sit with the poem and read it aloud. And there was even a point I had memorized it . . . a prayer of hope that some day I could feel faith about love.
      And today? I do.
After a while you learn
the subtle difference between
holding a hand and chaining a soul
and you learn
that love doesn’t mean leaning
and company doesn’t always mean security.
And you begin to learn
that kisses aren’t contracts
and presents aren’t promises
and you begin to accept your defeats
with your head up and your eyes ahead
with the grace of woman, not the grief of a child
and you learn
to build all your roads on today
because tomorrow’s ground is
too uncertain for plans
and futures have a way of falling down
in mid-flight.
After a while you learn
that even sunshine burns
if you get too much
so you plant your own garden
and decorate your own soul
instead of waiting for someone
to bring you flowers.
And you learn that you really can endure
you really are strong
you really do have worth
and you learn
and you learn
with every goodbye, you learn…

      To be honest, there are a few people who argue they wrote it. A woman named Judith Evans says she wrote it, as well. Having communicated with Veronica, the frustration Judith expressed here was also expressed by Veronica. She assured me she wrote this when she was nineteen years old–a testament to awareness and the ability to achieve transformation in life. And it is entirely possible that Judith Evans and Veronica Shoffstall both experienced a synchronous moment that connected them to the same Truth. Just as ideas in science seem to all crop up at the same time (making for great stories of races to patents offices, with history delineating a clear winner who gets the glory while the other person is an “also-ran”), I believe any idea can manifest in many minds. It comes from my faith that we are all connected. No matter which of the two poems people have been introduced to, both remind us that choosing to persevere through dark nights of the soul will always bring the dawn of enlightenment for the weary soul-traveler.

      Veronica’s old page of poems on geocities (“Mirrors and Other Insults”) is gone. That is a tragedy, because she had some powerful poems she wrote through the 1980s and the 1990s . . .
      . . . which I just remembered can probably be accessed by the wayback machine!
      Okay . . . for people interested in her other poems, here you go:
      Veronica’s personal Geocities Page Circa 2003–Mirrors and Other Insults. Happily, the wayback machine modified the links on the page, so clicking on the name opens the cached page links to her poems.
      I have a feeling this is synchronicity in action, that something is drawing me to excavate Veronica’s words from the electronic tomb. After a While was a good poem, but a couple of her other poems touched me more at the time. See, I was going through a painful divorce (I became harshly aware I was not irreplaceable nor unforgettable nor worth chasing across the country, despite what my ex-spouse said while my parents’ money flowed into our marriage). Veronica shared her own experience with me, through her poetry and emails. She inspired me with her words, with her evolution, with her love.
      And I have a feeling, a calm knowing, that her words are about to do that for someone else . . . through this blog. Especially since I didn’t intend to write about Veronica when I started this entry. I mean, the title was originally, “It’s Been a Long Time”, and then I deleted that last minute and wrote in the title bar: “After a While”. I initially meant that I came back after a while, was passing through to give a quick head’s up (less than 300 words, initially). And then I remembered corresponding with Veronica during my divorce, and her verse-based experience and strength and hope that inspired me at 26 to email her in order to thank her for writing a poem which did honestly save my life more than once. Her later verse comforted me in that later stage of my life, when “After a While” didn’t really apply to my life any more– I was no longer a single woman hoping to find my Prince Charming and my Happily Ever After. I was a divorced mother who realized that I had made a choice that would affect an innocent life I had brought into the world. And I felt deep guilt, self-loathing, self-hatred. (On a upbeat note, the child is now an adult, and he’s driven and has dreams . . . despite my addiction, he’s become a pretty awesome man).
      Ugh, now I’m rambling. The point is that someone needs Veronica’s poems. Maybe today, maybe tomorrow, maybe in a few years. Maybe it will be me. But whoever needs Veronica’s words to be raised from the depths, I offer them to you and hope her words remind you that you are not alone in your journey, not alone in your pain, not alone at all.
      My name is Jess. I still am curious about why I ended up with anorexia and binge eating but not bulimia. Or maybe I have a passive sort of bulimia, since I can whip myself up into a frenzy to throw up . . . though I honestly don’t need to. Still baffled by how this body can weigh 160 lbs. after years of believing I would never see myself at less than 250 lbs. again. And it’s been six months at 152-162 lbs., so this is clearly where this body is settling.
      Oh, um, I’m a recovering food addict. Definitely a recovering emotional addict and emotional anorexic. Emotional adrenaline addict, definitely. Get the numb or get the hit. Like tuning out completely or dialing into something like a little English Terrier once it’s got a fascinating smell it doesn’t want to stop snuffing. Yes, a twenty-pound dog can indeed seem as powerful as a one-ton anchor or a giant electromagnet to a 300-lb. person. That dog was not moving for love nor money, as if welded to the ground by its nose. And I can be like that, too, when it comes to my adrenaline hit (and desire to numb out to forget what I did during my adrenaline hit).
      Again, I’m rambling. Meh. Read Veronica’s poems already. I’m out of useful words. 🙂



  1. Jess, thank you so much for posting a link to the Shoffstall poems! They were a joy to read! All my best to you.

  2. Thank you. I found that poem in 1998 after the death of my husband. I took great comfort reading it, and sharing it with others. I thank Veronica also. I still read it. Thank you!

  3. […] A certain post of mine, “After a While”, gets quite a bit of traffic.       The poem seems to be one which brings […]

  4. French site

    Another one in english

    so figure out who has copied whom because there is a case that jorge Luis Borges wrote that poem too!!

  5. Is Veronica still alive. At 32, I’ve had this poem speak to me at various moments in my life for over a decade. I would like to thank her sincerely. I too read it outloud in rough times.

  6. I was also introduced to this poem in my teens and I am now 45. I am in a relationship which is unhealthy and neither of us want the responsibility of ending it. I am very afraid to let go for fear that it will be the end and want this person in my life, he has played a huge part in decisions I have made to change my life. I feel very alone and afraid when we are not together that he will find someone else, I have been getting thoughts lately of setting him free and decided to look up the poem again and came across your blog. I am a codependent, an alcoholic in recovery, I haven’t had a drink for 7 years. My whole life has been a reaction to the world. How I feel, what I do. Life seems an uphill battle, forcing myself to get out there and live but I am present in body but not emotionally. I need the courage to change, not to run away as is so often my pattern, I am thinking it right now, who could I go to, I have burned a lot of bridges, I believed letting go of the past by actually physically letting go. I chain the soul, I am the jailer and it has just dawned on me whilst writing this. We are both jailers both wanting the other to be happy. We laugh, we argue, we love. I suspect he wants to experience more, different relationships but I am told it’s not true and at times it feels like I am going crazy which I do to myself. Find it difficult to actually enjoy what we have here and now. He has tried everything to help me to find happiness!! I chain my soul and his to negativity and pain. I am not evil, I have tried to get him to go and he has to a certain extent but I keep dragging him back with suicide attempts. That bit changing a little. I can’t handle the emotion, and dwell in the swamp, reliving it with all the past pain, my emotional self takes over and the rational disappears, I look for something, someone to take the pain away. I am afraid that I will drink. If only I could say well it’s over, we had an amazing time, which we have been pretty much around the UK, went to South Africa for 3 months at the beginning of this year and it was an amazing experience. It’s time to move on and have new experiences with different people. Your experience was almost a mirror of my own. I didn’t feel so alone any more.

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