Reflections on Love After Love, by Derek Walcott

One Friday night, not long ago, I did something I have never done before.  After enjoying a delicious dinner with a group of wise women friends, our host moved us to comfy couches and chairs in the living room; one of the women passed out copies of a poem, and another read it out loud.  Then we shared our ideas, our thoughts, how the poem spoke to us. 
The thing is, I have never been much into poetry.  Except for Shel Silverstein, and maybe Dr. Seuss, I have not often been moved by it.  So at first I just listened.  I listened to my friends as they shared which words and lines spoke to them.  Some of them asked questions, and others answered – from their story, their perspective.  I read and reread the lines.  I reflected.  And then, like a probe reaching deep into my heart - examining, inquiring, exploring, I was stirred up and moved.  By poetry, of all things.

Love After Love
The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other's welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.

You will love again the stranger who was yourself.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.

Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.
~Derek Walcott

Our discussion led us to our younger selves, to the time in our lives when we felt the most free to be ourselves.  For me, this was around first and second grade.  I remember feeling carefree, thinking myself smart and funny, and never doubting whether I was enough.  Good enough.  Lovable enough.  Smart enough or pretty enough.
As young girls, my friends were imaginative and silly, cruising their neighborhoods on roller skates, making horses and corrals out of twigs, and producing musicals for their parents.  We were artists, teachers, leaders, nurses, communicators, and business women in the making.
Then come the fears that bind us, the shame that makes us hide, and the insecurities that make us feel less than.  A couple of women in the group shared how they see traces of themselves in their daughters, and while they love these streaks in their daughters, they no longer love themselves.  Somewhere along life’s journey, many of us stopped believing the truth about ourselves – that we are loved, accepted, and cherished.  We are made in the image of the God who created us, and are of immeasurable worth to Him.
 But our journey is not yet over, and for me, this poem is about the journey home.  Home to where I am loved and I belong.  Grief is mingled in with my interpretation, because in some ways it is hard to see myself since I no longer have my mom as a mirror.  Her love and encouragement always was abounding in my life, and if I ever doubted my value or whether or not I was loved, all I had to do was look into her eyes.  Listen to the way she said my name.  Her love is still in my heart, but perhaps part of letting go is learning to see my true self in God’s eyes, in His words.  Listening to the tender way He speaks my name.
                 I've taken down the photographs, the love letters from the shelf.  Polaroids of my mom cradling me in her hospital bed on my birth-day, soft sheets and blankets, her blond hair long and thick, like a movie star.  I've looked into the eyes of my four-year-old, six-year-old, ten-year-old self.  Even though my hair is cut like a boy, that’s me.  After all these years, that’s still me.  Love After Love reminds me to be gentle with myself.  To care for my heart, spirit, and body.  To believe the truth, and to come home.

    “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
Luke 15:20


Unknown said...

Your words say so well what I am feeling and thinking. I am trying to be more gentle with myself.
Thank you for writing this beautiful piece and sharing it.

Unknown said...

Thank you, Jan. I think what made this come alive for me was sharing it together. Your words also touched my heart.