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Poetry by Happenstance

I have always liked reading a good story, which probably explains why I have always liked telling a good story. Regardless of my job, I have always gravitated towards creating a newsletter, interviewing, and sharing someone's experience.

So here I am again. Back where I should be.

Starting out, I was a horrible reader. In first grade I was in "that" reading group. It was a rough start. I knew it was no good being in the "bunny" group. Somewhere along the way though, it clicked. By fourth grade I had read the entire Nancy Drew book series (the original and the 1980's version) and just about every other book I could get my hands on.

Luckily, I grew up in a family of readers. So much so, the library bookmobile always parked in front of our house when stopping in our neighborhood. We were often the only visitors and inevitably left with arms and bags overflowing with books.

This love of reading continued into my adulthood. Even though I know I can download a book onto any device imaginable, there is something magical to me about the library. I love picking out random books based solely on the cover, or reserving the newest book by my favorite author. Yes, I could get it right now if I wanted to, but nothing feels better than carrying a big bag of books home.

As a kid I thought real life could never be as interesting as the adventures I read about. How very untrue that is. Everyone has a story to tell. And real life stories are always stranger than fiction. Stories told by those in your life can make you laugh until it hurts, mesmerize you, motivate you, and sometimes feel the grief and pain as if it were your own.

The first time I remember really feeling the weight and beauty of someone's life happened completely by accident. I was in my early twenties as a new stay-at-home mom looking over the classified section for a way to bring in some extra money. One ad asked for someone to transcribe a poet's work into a book format. I thought that sounded more interesting than anything else I had seen.

I called the number and was connected to a resident's room at a nursing home. She was excited for me to start right away. When I arrived at the designated time she asked me to wait in the hall while the nurse did her hair and got her presentable. When I came in she was sitting up in her bed with her hair neatly brushed, fresh lipstick applied and a robe added to her attire. She was also bone thin. She apologized for her appearance and told me she was a tad tired today but she wanted me to get started on things.

She pointed to a pile of paper waist high in the corner and said these were all poems she had written and I could start typing them up right away. Some were published clippings from newspapers and magazines while others were handwritten on various types of paper.

I hauled all of the papers home and started working on organizing them and getting them typed into one document. Each week when I came back, we would talk about my progress and she would tell me about her life as a poet. I would tell her about my life plans and my new little baby, whom she would coo over when I arrived and before I left. Sometimes she would remember to pay me and other times she wouldn't, but I never mentioned it. This pattern continued on for a few months.

One day I walked down the hall to her room and when I entered, the bed was empty and crisply made. I stood there for what seemed like a very long time until a nurse walked by. When I asked where she was, the nurse told me she had passed away earlier that week. I don't know if I replied, but I managed to turn around and walk out with baby in tow. In a daze I sat in the car for a while before heading home.

At that point in my life I had no idea what "dying" looked like. I did not know how she was doing and didn't see the signs. She was gone and all I could think was, who is going to read her poems? She had told me she did not have any children and she had distant family out of town. She was preparing all of this for someone to read, right? Or did she just want someone to share her stories with, and that someone was me?

I bundled all of her poems up into a big bag and took them to the nursing home the next day. At the nurses station I told the nurse on duty what it was and asked who would get it. She just smiled sadly shaking her head and said, "I don't know...but I will try to make sure someone does."

The last memory I have of my visits was when she told me a poem, by memory, about dancing with a boy. I don't remember the exact words but it was a melody listening to her recite it like it was yesterday. She told me of the joy of dancing and spinning and being completely alive and young. As she sat exhausted in her bed, small and frail, her eyes danced and shown bright at the memory.

As I was just starting out my life, her life story was just as much a gift to me as my listening was to her. My experience with this talented poet taught me that everyone has a story to tell if you just take the time to listen.

Wishing you the best in your life story,


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1 Comment

Dave May
Dave May
Jul 06, 2021

Maureen, well said. everyone has a treasure trove of life experiences and stories to tell. All we have to do is to listen.

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