Posted by: innerpilgrimage | January 1, 2014

The Lesson, Not the Teacher

      A certain post of mine, “After a While”, gets quite a bit of traffic.

      The poem seems to be one which brings great comfort to people during times of crisis. It’s saved my life before, a mantra I memorized to remind myself that I am not defined by the people with whom I have relationships:

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…

      Curiously, this poem is regularly embroiled in conflict as to its origin. When I was first introduced to it, the version I saw was attributed to Anonymous. In time, I learned that a poet named Veronica A. Shoffstall had written it. She had dealt with people attributing it to others. Yesterday, I learned it is also attributed to an Argentinian poet named Jorge Luis Borges, as a poem initially written in Spanish. Curiously, I’ve seen multiple titles in Spanish, no indication it was published before 1971, and one person who analyzed Borges’s work and has said that this is not his style.
      Having communicated with Ms. Shoffstall, I believe what she wrote to me about the poem and her frustration. At the time, I had never heard of Jorge Luis Borges. At the time, his name did not come up as one of the people who claimed the work as their own. Does it matter that it’s Veronica Shoffstall’s poem? Well, in one sense it does, because the author deserves to enjoy the financial gain of his or her copyrighted works. Having seen it used in an artwork in 1992 in Taos (I didn’t buy it and regret my inaction, since it was a beautiful presentation of the poem) still attributed to Anonymous. When I found her poems, when I found inspiration in not just “After a While”, when I was touched by her deeply-felt messages in verse.
      Now, I could jump up and shout, “How could others lie about her like this!” or “How could she lie to me!”  There’s no point in it to me. If I purchase a book of poems and it happens to be in that book, it is still as true to me as part of my journey as a woman. This is, for me, one of those awakenings from codependency, from romantic obsession. It is that moment when the girl wanting the princess fantasy realizes that her purpose is not to be seduced into completing another human being but to journey to personal wholeness in order to find personal serenity.
      I have lamented about the loss of created works, left unwritten. How changed would the world have been had the Big Book gone unwritten, despite many of AA’s founders going unsung in the process. There are people out there who create works which change our lives yet their connection to the work falls away until just the work stands alone to inspire us to . . . to learn or to change or to simply appreciate that this exists. Something to consider.

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