On Wednesday, I was driving to a doughnut shop with my grandmother. The previous night she’d been present at the launch party for Pike Place Market Recipes, and there in the car, sun streaming in, we somehow found ourselves talking about whether chutzpah is passed down from generation to generation, like long eyelashes or nice feet. Of course, she’d never use that word; June is the antithesis of a Jewish grandmother. She called it resilience, I think.
And then, to illustrate her point, she started talking about poetry. I warned her that if she was expecting me to participate in the conversation, she might need to reconsider, because my knowledge of poetry is sketchy at best. But I did have one excellent English teacher, in the twelfth grade. His room was plastered with quotations students had painted on the walls over the years, and one, in particular, spoke to me that year. I carried it around in my head for ages, to ski races and biology exams. So perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised when June quoted just that one, verbatim.
By William Ernest Henley
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
Redux: Life is not about tripping and falling into a bubbling vat of Cream of Wheat. It’s about a graceful dive into whatever pool awaits, performed with as much moxie as one can muster.
I don’t know how often June thinks of that poem, but it’s back on my radar, for sure. These days, it feels like everyone I know has a pool waiting. It’s a book proposal. It’s chemo. It’s a sick child. It’s one of a whole host of things, all different, which for whatever reason may be daunting or frightening or annoying or downright terrifying. For some people, it’s just life in general, and really, that’s enough on its own. Everyone has their thing.
For the last (almost) decade, my pool has been lupus. Sometimes the whole pool dries up, and I almost forget it’s there, but this is not one of those times. This is a spring of new IV treatments that give me heroine addict arms, and lifting my child carefully, and trying to find a pair of earrings that are easy for me to put in. I hate that it hurts to type, and that when I wake up in the morning under a cloud of brainstorm, I pause for a second before opening my computer, weighing whether I’m ready to move my fingers that much. But it’s also been an extremely happy, exciting time. (Did I tell you? I wrote a cookbook, and I love it.)
So on mornings like this one, I sit quietly on the couch—my child has been sleeping past six recently, for reasons I don’t understand but won’t question—and warm my hands on a cup of coffee. Then, I write, because moving forward is almost always the best option.