by Jennifer on October 11, 2009

Not long ago, on her Facebook page, my sister posted these lines from Whitman:

Long enough have you dream’d contemptible dreams,
Now I wash the gum from your eyes,
You must habit yourself to the dazzle of the light and of every moment of your life.

Long have you timidly waded holding a plank by the shore,
Now I will you to be a bold swimmer,
To jump off in the midst of the sea, rise again, nod to me, shout, and laughingly dash with your hair.

Walt Whitman, from Song of Myself

What she didn’t know was that this is one of my favorite passages.

I left her a note.

“Did you know that I’ve had this memorized for at least 15 years? (Ah, if only I knew it by heart…)”

You know how it goes. Some lessons take longer to learn than others.

Some things you learn in no time at all, like tying a shoe or riding a bike. Others take weeks, months, years. And sometimes you realize you knew it all along, that you always knew what to do if you would just let go, to realize you have a longer stride in you, bigger steps than the timid ones you’ve been taking there in the shallows.

So you walk out farther, and if the bottom drops out, you swim like hell. Well, I’ll be damned, you maybe say to yourself. You always knew how, didn’t you?

And then you look around and realize you’re not out there alone, not even close. Around you, ready to hold you up, are all the people you love and who love and care about you.

People who would give their time and strength and hearts and resources to stand beside and around and behind you and say We’ve got your back.

And they’re looking at you, and you can’t quite figure out how to describe that expression on all their faces. Part love, yes, and encouragement. But there’s something else, too.

The name for it floats somewhere in the back of your consciousness, until you can see it clearly.


You want to feel what they feel, that certainty that everything will turn out, and you do, in moments. But it’s been so long since you knew anything for sure, that you don’t even remember how it feels.

Until the word steps forward and gives a crisp salute. Present. Accounted for, it says. Don’t worry, I know what I’m doing.And then, with a wink, Did you miss me?

You think, god, yes.

Soon, other words join the first, soldiers showing up for duty. Humility. Hope. Gratitude (so much, immeasurable amounts of that). Courage. Strength. Gumption. Honesty. Friendship. Possibility.

That last one – possibility – is the newest recruit, and stands shoulder to shoulder with belief. Turns out, they’re from the same hometown.

Which brings me to the news I have to share.

The first part of it is that I have finally moved. But…not to any of the places I’ve mentioned here as possibilities. Instead, we landed in Maryland, and it’s exactly the right place for us right now.

The other part of the news is that only three of us made the move, just me and the kids. That’s also exactly the right thing for us.

I couldn’t have done it at all without the seemingly limitless help and encouragement and time that my friends and family offered us. It’s not a comfortable place to be, needing as much help as I have to make this move and to start over. But I am so overwhelmed and grateful and filled to the top with love for everyone who helped me make this happen.  At every turn, there was someone to put a gentle but firm hand at my back to keep me moving forward.

I will never be able to say a big enough thank you.

So, we’re here, where fall is starting to show itself, a show I haven’t seen in six years. I couldn’t have timed this better if I had tried, really. And now, something old becomes something new, and I have to figure out how this new life will look. I only know this, that it will be better than what was, and that’s a lot to know. More than enough.

Oh, about that thing I said to my sister, about the Whitman lines? About having it memorized, but wishing I knew it by heart?

This was her response, and it made me laugh:

“I am totally stealing that line.”

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