A gift... and gifts

I was given a beautiful gift today. By a woman who has given me many beautiful gifts over the last few months-- my poetry professor in Spring semester, Suzanne Gardinier.

It was the senior lecture, a tradition at SLC where the graduating class selects a professor to give them one final talk before they leave. This lecture was called "A life of learning: How to tear down a house and build a boat" and it reminded me of so many beautiful things that I asked her for a copy, knowing I would need to go back to it at different points in my life... as I reread it late at night, I can only think of it as a wonderful gift that someone gave me and that I gratefully received.

Do you know the feeling of being at home in a talk? Suzanne's talks and writing make me feel at home in a way that only one other person's talks and writings do-- Sarah Wider's. they both talk about poetry and activism in the most beautiful, most gentle of ways, with a love that makes me feel so complete and so utterly... at home, that's it. Here's a quote from it, something I needed to hear today, something I need to hear often:

You're not lying awake worrying because you're neurotic.  (Or not entirely anyway.)  You're worrying because you're awake.  And the question isn't how best to anesthetize yourself against this, but how to live with it.  How to dance with what's true.... you can be trained enough not to panic, but to dance

Anesthesia is sometimes the easier choice, but I want that training she talks about, and I know that all of this past year's struggles with illness, with confronting mortality, with everything, have been part of acquiring that. Have been part, simply, of learning to dance.

Suzanne would often talk to us in class about what a gift our art can be, would encourage us to think of ourselves as creating gifts that we can give to people we may have never met. She wants to see a world where people leave poems around for others in to read in phone booths and coffee shops and public places, where who wrote the poem is less important than the gift of that piece of one life to another life. Today, I read a blog posted on the facebook page of a friend who recently did something called "poetry in unexpected places"... a group of young poets/ spoken word artists who spent one weekend afternoon performing poems in the subways of NYC. The blog post mentioned something to the effect: "The greatest part was that nothing was expected in return." Because if something was expected in return, it wouldn't really be a gift, would it?

I can't get these thoughts about gifts out of my mind. I have been thinking a lot lately about what it means to give something without expecting in return... when the other party doesn't quite believe you expect nothing in return. So, when you give because you find joy in giving, and the other party starts feeling uncomfortable because they assume you want something back that they cannot give, should you feel apologetic about giving in the first place?

S told me this morning that I can come across "too strongly"; that he knows me well enough to understand where I am coming from, but that for someone new, it can be hard to realize i honestly don't want anything in response. I'm talking here not so much about literal gifts as just about love and support... there have been a few different people in my life whom I have tried reaching out to over the past few weeks, people I don't really know that well but, for different reasons, connected to and wanted to reach out to. I ignored the voices, once on the outside but now well settled into my head, that tell me I "care too much," felt comfortable in reaching out with all the love in my heart. I knew I couldn't get hurt because I really wasn't looking for any specific response, or even a response at all necessarily, that was not the point. But I hadn't realized that other part enough until recently... that even if I don't expect anything from someone, they often still think I do, and that often still makes them uncomfortable. I am starting to see that over the last few days, and S was right in stressing/ explaining that in a way that drove the point home. It almost feels selfish not to have realized it on my own.

Except that I don't know where that leaves me. I don't want to apologize for caring; I don't want to apologize for the gifts I want to give. Mostly, I don't want to apologize for who I am. But do I want to apologize for their discomfort? I'm not sure.