What one poem will they read at your memorial?

The House of Belonging by David WhyteI went to a Celebration of Life memorial service for the Rev. Geri Glinski at Unity Church of Palm Harbor today. Geri was a light. And I don’t mean metaphorically. Geri glowed.

At the service, her daughter read Geri’s favorite poem, “The Road Less Travelled” by Robert Frost. Immediately I wondered, what would they be reading if this were my memorial? What poem would my family and friends instinctively know is my all-time favorite. Hafiz, of course. I’m forever reading and quoting the great Sufi mystic, Hafiz. But if they had to read just one poem, I think it would be David Whyte’s, “All the True Vows.”

When I read this poem in 1997, my marriage had disintegrated and I was desperately seeking a core, an essence, an answer that could make the chaos make sense. Reading this poem, I knew that my answer lay in writing my own “true vows.” I call it my Covenant with Spirit. And from the moment I wrote my seven vows, they began to magnetically rearrange my life. I still repeat my seven-line Covenant every day. It’s still true, and it would still kill me to break them.

All the True Vows
(from The House of Belonging)

All the true vows
are secret vows
the ones we speak out loud
are the ones we break.

There is only one life
you can call your own
and a thousand others
you can call by any name you want.

Hold to the truth you make
every day with your own body,
don’t turn your face away.

Hold to your own truth
at the center of the image
you were born with.

Those who do not understand
their destiny will never understand
the friends they have made
nor the work they have chosen

nor the one life that waits
beyond all the others.

By the lake in the wood
in the shadows
you can
whisper that truth
to the quiet reflection
you see in the water.

Whatever you hear from
the water, remember,
it wants to carry
the sound of its truth on your lips.

Remember,
in this place
no one can hear you

and out of the silence
you can make a promise
it will kill you to break,

that way, you’ll find
what is real and what is not.

I know what I am saying.
Time almost forsook me
and I looked again.

Seeing my reflection
I broke a promise
and spoke
for the first time
after all these years

in my own voice,

before it was too late
to turn my face again.

I, too, spoke in my own voice before it was too late. And that call, that voice, that new, personal, sacred promise created the life I now live. So, although I so want lots of mystical poetry at my celebration, lots of Rumi and Hafiz and Meister Eckhart, first and forever, there must be David Whyte.

How about you? What words have grabbed your attention, turned your head, and will not let you go? Whatever that poem or statement is, find it, print it, say it. Say it. Say it today.

And share it with us. What one poem do you want them to read at your memorial?

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12 Comments on “What one poem will they read at your memorial?”

  1. This message from the Prophet by Khalil Gibran gripped me at the age of 18 and I have wrestled with the intricacies of giving and receiving through various stages of my life ever since. Sometimes I’ve gone too far in one direction – at other times too far in the other. Yet I know that the secret to understanding the natural flow of life is contained in this poem and my hope is to understand that message fully before I finish this particular voyage through the human experience.

    Then said a rich man, “Speak to us of Giving.”

    And he answered:

    You give but little when you give of your possessions.

    It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.

    For what are your possessions but things you keep and guard for fear you may need them tomorrow?

    And tomorrow, what shall tomorrow bring to the over prudent dog burying bones in the trackless sand as he follows the pilgrims to the holy city?

    And what is fear of need but need itself?

    Is not dread of thirst when your well is full, thirst that is unquenchable?

    There are those who give little of the much which they have – and they give it for recognition and their hidden desire makes their gifts unwholesome.

    And there are those who have little and give it all.

    These are the believers in life and the bounty of life, and their coffer is never empty.

    There are those who give with joy, and that joy is their reward.

    And there are those who give with pain, and that pain is their baptism.

    And there are those who give and know not pain in giving, nor do they seek joy, nor give with mindfulness of virtue;

    They give as in yonder valley the myrtle breathes its fragrance into space.

    Through the hands of such as these God speaks, and from behind their eyes He smiles upon the earth.

    It is well to give when asked, but it is better to give unasked, through understanding;

    And to the open-handed the search for one who shall receive is joy greater than giving

    And is there aught you would withhold?

    All you have shall some day be given;

    Therefore give now, that the season of giving may be yours and not your inheritors’.

    You often say, “I would give, but only to the deserving.”

    The trees in your orchard say not so, nor the flocks in your pasture.

    They give that they may live, for to withhold is to perish.

    Surely he who is worthy to receive his days and his nights is worthy of all else from you.

    And he who has deserved to drink from the ocean of life deserves to fill his cup from your little stream.

    And what desert greater shall there be than that which lies in the courage and the confidence, nay the charity, of receiving?

    And who are you that men should rend their bosom and unveil their pride, that you may see their worth naked and their pride unabashed?

    See first that you yourself deserve to be a giver, and an instrument of giving.

    For in truth it is life that gives unto life – while you, who deem yourself a giver, are but a witness.

    And you receivers – and you are all receivers – assume no weight of gratitude, lest you lay a yoke upon yourself and upon him who gives.

    Rather rise together with the giver on his gifts as on wings;

    For to be over mindful of your debt, is to doubt his generosity who has the free-hearted earth for mother, and God for father.

  2. I want to add a comment to Gibran’s work on Giving and Receiving (see first post) . I have come to the conclusion through the years that when he uses the word Gratitude in the last paragraph he is referring to the definition of gratitude that speaks of “indebtedness” rather than the definition of gratitude that speaks of “blessing”. Indebtedness always tends to water down the value of the gift, and he makes the point very clearly, while gratitude in the form of appreciation makes it even more valuable.

  3. Wild Geese
    by Mary Oliver

    You do not have to be good.
    You do not have to walk on your knees
    for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
    You only have to let the soft animal of your body
    love what it loves.
    Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
    Meanwhile the world goes on.
    Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
    are moving across the landscapes,
    over the prairies and the deep trees,
    the mountains and the rivers.
    Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
    are heading home again.
    Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
    the world offers itself to your imagination,
    calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
    over and over announcing your place
    in the family of things.

  4. Katie Saylor says:

    This is How it Works by Douglas Pagels

    Each day is a blank page in the diary of your life.
    The pen is in your hand, but the lines will not all be written the way you choose; some will come from the world and the circumstances that surround you.

    But for the many things that are in your control, there is something special you need to know…

    The secret of life is in making your story as beautiful as it can be. Write the diary of your days and fill the pages with words that come from the heart. As the pages take you through time, you will discover paths that add to your happiness and your sorrows, but if you can do these things, there will always be hope in your tomorrows.

    Follow your dreams. Work hard. Be kind. This is all anyone could ever ask; Do what you can to make the door open on a day…that is filled with beauty in some special way. Remember; Goodness will be rewarded. Smiles will pay you back. Have fun. Find strength. Be truthful. Have faith. Don’t focus on the things you lack.

    Realize that people are the treasures in life – and happiness is the real wealth. Have a diary that describes how you did your best and…

    The rest will take care of itself.

    I also have a quote that I always try to follow and it has been a favorite of mine for years but I don’t know who the author is

    If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.

  5. hooplamedia says:

    I have written my will in this disguise of love
    I have told you of the long, stretched, wooden path sprinkled with rows of corn and swamps and birds.
    I have guided myself to a single tree–
    its bark cutting my surface, catching my eyes.
    Where are you in this thickness?

    You can aim for my heart, I’ll allow it
    Tear, climb inside, sew it
    Stand next to it and breathe in its coffee scent
    Today I am still and moving–
    as simple as a toy balloon.

    If you are there, God, help lift us.
    Tell my heart to run away, to fly forward,
    to reel in the dark past, in the grays and blues and occasional amber eye.
    To walk in photographs
    To snatch the lightning.
    Simply to breathe, to love,
    never to let my eyes close
    or the sun to cast too fiery a light.

    It seems as though the birds are pulling me away
    The birds
    They help me in the days when I can not drip through my own eyes
    They bring me to a child’s forgotten place–
    to fables and stone art and humbling songs.
    Grass. Root. And a silent finale of life.

    I do not want the world, or to want anything at all.
    But now, in the light, my skin becomes thinner, and I must think there exists an invisible string
    which pulls me to the dirt.

  6. hooplamedia says:

    Yep– it’s me. Jennifer. Wrote that in college and it’s still my favorite poem (of mine). I always said that would be my memorial poem. Glad you likey.


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