It’s taken me a long time to get up the courage to write about this experience because I was afraid I would sound like a braggy name-dropper. But maybe it’s that enough time has gone by, maybe I’ve eased up on myself, or maybe it’s reading about artists like Summer Pierre, who set 6 and 12-month creative goals for themselves, and have the self-permission to pursue them without getting in their own way. I love this kind of humble confidence–the simple, fierce belief that you, and everyone else, have the right to do something other than what David Whyte calls waking up every day into the “great To Do list” of your life. (Summer Pierre is AMAZING, BTW. Must-reads on her web site: “100 Things,” and the story of how she gave birth to her son on the side of the highway in NYC).
Anyway, the having dinner with David Whyte part of the David Whyte visit came about like this: I went into my boss’ office a week or two before David was due to arrive and asked, casually, like it was no big deal, if I could be the one to take him out for dinner. Alone. And I think my boss, who, together with his wife, both huge John O’Donohue fans (he was an enormously talented and important contemporary Irish writer and theologian, and close friend of David Whyte who died unexpectedly in 2008; Whyte’s The Three Marriages is dedicated to him), were scheduled to have breakfast with David, figured either that everyone who mattered would have had their time with David, OR that he knew how much it would mean to me to have the chance to sit down with him one-on-one, so he gave me the thumbs up.
Now, academia, like corporate America, has its own unspoken hierarchy. The person with the clipboard who does the grunt work of coordinating your visit, orders your lunch, hangs your blazer on the back of a chair because there’s no coat racks in the classroom you’re speaking in (and then sits in the chair with your blazer on it, inhaling every molecule of closeness like a total creeper), is, frankly, just not that important (e.g. is not, as they say, “a decision maker”).
In my job, I’ve always straddled that line between having the cool ideas, making the contacts, and then doing the crap work of making them happen. This doesn’t really bother me; someone has to do the detail work, detail work matters, and I’m good enough at it, so it might as well be me. (I’m reminded of my dear, dear friend Ann, detailer extraordinaire, who always provided a tiny basket for the plastic pull-off backs of nametags at the events she organized. Such gestures are acts of love).
In my work, I’m usually in charge of hosting, pleasant, smart, education-oriented people whom I like and respect, and I’m truly more than happy to help make their visits comfortable and productive. But David Whyte’s visit was mine. It was about poetry, lifeblood, and an extraordinary chance to orient my life compass towards what really mattered.
On the day of David’s visit, I knew that even if I were the one standing in the background all day, cleaning up box lunches, and/or introducing him to people who knew he was “important” but had never read any of his work, it didn’t matter. Because I knew who he was (professionally, not personally), and I knew that at 6:00PM that evening, long after most of the talking heads had gone, over 300 people would arrive on campus to hear a man, a writer, a poet, speak to them (no matter how many times he had spoken on the topic before) about something that really, really mattered.
And my confusion, questing, uncertainty, longing, and tremendous good fortune had made that happen.
Stay tuned for Part 3, and in the meantime, tell me about something that you’ve done that came straight from your heart and made a difference to someone. Anything, from opening a door for a mom with a stroller, calling a friend who’s having a bad day, to telling someone that you appreciate them, or something really big that you’re proud of. OR, tell me about a time when someone did something like this for you!
With Thanks to the Field Sparrow, Whose Voice Is So Delicate and Humble
I do not live happily or comfortably
with the cleverness of our times.
The talk is all about computers,
the news is all about bombs and blood.
This morning, in the fresh field,
I came upon a hidden nest.
It held four warm, speckled eggs.
I touched them.
Then went away softly,
having felt something more wonderful
than all the electricity of New York City.