Some days it is as if the TV awards show judges are all holding up “10.0” paddles, their buzzers pressed, their chairs spinning towards you in affirmation.


Still other days, the music stops, the applause now distant, and we are left alone with our thoughts.  Usually these days come after loss, crisis, or disappointment.


The “bad days” can be useful exercises, though. 


I find in those moments, I pray more.  I appreciate nature, and well-tended gardens with heightened awareness of my own small-ness. And I read a few poems to calm the nerves.


On reflection this is a pretty good prescription for tough times—gardening, poetry, and belief.


After a particularly bruising (albeit victorious) settlement conference in our Williamsburg office, I took my lunch to Colonial Williamsburg and walked through several neatly kept garden rows.  Flowers, bees, produce.  Soft breeze.  Faint clop clop clop of horse hooves.  Calming.  A breath prayer on a fence post. 


You might try it sometime when you feel the din begin to rise.


Consider picking up a copy of Garrison Keillor’s, Good Poems for Hard Times.  He’s selected a nice cadre of poems for just such an occasion.  Also, his introduction alone is worth the purchase.  He advocates that poetry is a trusted source in difficult moments, as poetry is, at root, a garden patch tended by “honest peasants.” This in contrast to, as he frames it, the “expense-account” special interests—corporate and political—that offers their own agenda rather than real solace after tragedy.


He writes, “At times life becomes almost impossible, and you curl up under a blanket in a dim room behind drawn shades and you despise your life, which seems mean and purposeless, a hoax and a cheat, your shining chances all wasted, pissed away, nobody can change this or make this better, love is lost, hope gone, nothing left but to pour a glass of gin and listen to weepy music.  But it can help to say words.  Moaning helps.  So does prayer.  God hears prayer and restores the souls of the faithful.  Walking helps.  Many people have pulled themselves up out of the pit by the simple expedient of rising to their feet, leaning slightly forward, and putting one foot ahead of the other.  Poems help . . . . American poetry is the truest journalism we have.  What your life can be, lived bravely and independently, you can discover in poetry.”


Keep Calm, Carry On, and perhaps walk through a garden, say a prayer, and if time allows, read a few good poems.  Let the mind wander.  Remain hopeful.


PS:  At the end of the Keillor’s Good Poems book, he writes a little blurb about each poet featured.  One, to me, especially stood out:


William BLAKE (1757-1827, London) was nine years old when he saw a tree full of angels, and in his adult life he often said that spirits would visit his studio to sit for portraits.  He married Catherine Boucher, an illiterate woman, at the age of 25, and taught her to read, write, and help him in his printing work.  The two collaborated on his most famous works, his hand-illustrated poetry books Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience.  A friend once dropped by to find them sitting in their garden, naked, reciting passages from Paradise Lost.  “Come in!” cried Blake.  “It’s only Adam and Eve, you know!”  He died poor and unknown in London, coloring copies of his books while resting in bed.  He was buried in an unmarked grave.  The man who never in his mind and thoughts travel’d to heaven is no artist.

H. Van Smith
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