And you wait. You wait for the one thing
that will change your life,
make it more than it is—
something wonderful, exceptional,
stones awakening, depths opening to you.
In the dusky bookstalls
old books glimmer gold and brown.
You think of lands you journeyed through,
of paintings and a dress once worn
by a woman you never found again.
And suddenly you know: that was enough.
You rise and there appears before you
in all its longings and hesitations
the shape of what you lived.
Rilke is one of the most widely celebrated poets of the 20th century. His life is fascinating and he kept up a wide correspondence with many women and men throughout his lifetime. His Letters to a Young Poet is classic wisdom text about living as an artist.
Last week, Molly asked me to french braid her hair before hockey practice. It’s a little ritual we have; she shows up with her hair bands and a comb and sits between my legs and we chat about the day. But last week, instead of small talk, I handed her my copy of Rilke opened to this page and asked her to read it aloud. She did once, and then I asked her to read it again and tell me what she thought it was about. I didn’t know if a fifteen-year-old would know, but she did.
It’s about wasting your life, waiting for your “real life,” your “better life” to begin. You think that what’s happening now is boring, or beneath you, so you’re “remembering.” You keep looking back at all the choices you didn’t make, and the ones that got away. You’re afraid you might have missed your chance to be special, to have the life you want, but really, it’s like you just have to wake up to what’s going on right now in your life. Wherever you are, is exactly where you’re supposed to be. You’re life can still be great; you just have to recognize it.
I won’t claim Molly said all those words, but that was the gist of it. Even at fifteen, she’s experienced the universal longing for things to be different than they are, for our lives to conform to the vision we set for them. I’m glad I tried the poetry experiment with her; maybe she heard Rilke’s message a little sooner than the rest of us. (As a bonus, she also asked to borrow my copy of A Year with Rilke. I don’t think she’ll stick with it, but I’m glad she’s curious!)