Dining with David Whyte, Part 2

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”).

not me, but it could be

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.

Mary Oliver

10 thoughts on “Dining with David Whyte, Part 2

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  1. My initial thought, after reading your first post was: “you had dinner, alone, with David Whyte and you waited three months to tell your readers about it”?

    So glad you shared your wonderful experience! I’m hoping your next entry will be your third and final, the suspense is killing me!


    1. Hi Terry,

      Actually I’ve waited about 2 years to write about it! Not completely sure why, but I’m so glad you’re reading and sharing your thoughts!



  2. I love the Mother Theresa quote, “We can not do great things. We can only do small things with great love.” A few years ago a U of I Ph.D. student in Education from Ghana named Jane was accepted to present a paper in Alberta, Canada. She didn’t have any money and was going to take three-day bus ride to Canada, present her paper, and immediately turn around take a three-day bus ride back to Illinois. It broke my heart. So I marshalled the resources of my local P.E.O. chapter who contributed enough money for her to fly to Edmonton and then I contacted P.E.O. sisters in Edmonton who offered their homes to Jane (in fact hosting her) so that she could actually attend the conference she at which she was presenting.
    Who knows what has or will come because of this, if anything at all. Jane really has no idea of my part in this, but I can tell you, helping Jane made and makes me happier. I was so impressed and surprised and moved by these small acts of great love shown by my P.E.O. sisters, both here and in Canada.


    1. Ann,

      I love that quote too–thanks for sharing it here. And I LOVE the P.E.O. story, though knowing you, it doesn’t really surprise me…You have a way of noticing what people need and then responding to it in a quiet, resourceful, incredibly helpful way.

      Thanks for sharing!


  3. Good stories! I try to encourage others to be all they wish to be. I’ve been through a bit, and can draw on that to illustrate the importance of ‘being you’. We all have walls in our mind, walls we think we cannot move through and past. Sometimes we need someone on the outside to help us see beyond what we assume are our limitations.

    People have done this for me, I’ve done it for others. Hillary was right, it takes a village.


    1. Thank you, Nelle! Being able to own what we’ve been through is so important, because, as you say, it gives us more opportunities to help others make it through.


  4. When I was a young pastor in my first parish, a small rural church in Indiana, to be honest, I really didn’t know much about what a pastor was to do. One of the things I thought I would like to do, and as it turned out, was very good at, was directing the young people of the congregation in plays. Long story, short version: in four years as pastor there, we did 17 different plays, a number of them one-acts, but also two Shakespeare comedies, a Richard Sheridan, a Broadway musical, and some longer religious works. What I didn’t know I was doing was transforming that congregation’s image and understanding of itself or, as someone wrote to me about those days some years later later, “You threw open the windows of our church.” Who knew? God is gracious! One of the great images of that period that stays burned in my memory is of a teen-ager driving a tractor through the field, with his script in front of him studying his lines for “Much Ado about Nothing.”


    1. What a wonderful experience to share, Lynn! I just love picturing the tractor-driving teen studying his script! A classic.

      Good call on the bird nests, by the way. You are right!


  5. One warning about the poem:
    It is not good form to go about touching birds eggs in their nests; I am told that some bird moms will not return to a nest if a human has touched their eggs.


  6. Working in a large library in a small city, Portland, Maine, I have been honored to meet many notable authors &/or illustrators from the World of Children’s literature. Many, many have changed my life. The shy head of the children’s department would often have me pick up writers at the airport, or thier hotel, bring them lunch, even introduce a few. All of them grately changed me for the better, they inspired me. One author illustrator whom I admired intensely, in particular for her work on Joan of Arc was Dianne Stanley. She creates well illustrated biographies for children. She is an artistic genius. I was asked to take her to the museum of art in Portland. She asked me many questions about my life. I was so nervous, I locked us out of the car. She was gracious and had a wonderful sense of humor with a great deal of faith that I could get assistance. And I quickly did so. That’s another story. I will never forget her gentle ways. She signed my copy of Joan of Arc, “For Colleen, my fairy godmother …” I treasure this book.


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