I came across a spectacularly moving post by the wife of a victim of the 9/11 terrorist attacks reflecting on the 20 year anniversary of the tragedy. In it, she writes with poignant directness about her grief, describing it as “a tenacious and liquid emotion [that] finds any crevice in our hearts and souls and seeps in there, just waiting to burst through at the slightest provocation. A smell. A sound. Familiar handwriting on an old card. A duffel bag in the attic. And a crisp September morning shared by strangers, each with their own story to tell. Then suddenly, driving on the highway or checking out groceries, that grief bursts into any empty space.” There is more, and I cried while reading it — especially the words she would say to her husband today — but I’ll leave it at that, and applaud her bravery, and salute her.
On a truly trivial footnote, I was startled by her use of the Latin word “desiderata” in the piece, as I was not familiar with it. It means “something that is needed or wanted,” but the most common hit on the Internet when searching for the word led me to a 1927 poem of the same title by Max Ehrmann. It occurs to me that this poem may be known to everyone the world over but me, and if so, I apologize for my dilatoriness. However, if you are among the uninitiated like myself, It reads a bit like speech-making for a graduating class, but in the best possible way. It drinks like tonic: bracing, vaguely medicinal, but with a pleasingly sweet finish. My favorite bit runs as follows:
“Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.”
Beautiful reminders, all, but especially: beyond a wholesome discipline / be gentle with yourself.
+I especially need to hear these words when fraught with mom guilt.
+On permitting myself to grieve not as I should but as I can.
+This Maje cardi just came out and truly belongs in this roundup of tweed and tweed-inspired finds. Get the look for less with this popular style ($128 and selling quickly).
+I love this new all-natural-colored LL Bean tote!
+My new favorite recommendation for a fall function — Ulla vibes for $120! I have been receiving so many inquiries about what to wear to fall weddings, which brings me so much joy. I’ve been keeping this section of my shop updated for you.
+Ordering this doormat for our backdoor — on sale for $39!
+This sherpa bag is SO good. If out of budget, consider this sherpa pouch / laptop case!
+This shacket is major, and $50! I like it in the plain ivory or brown/white check.
+Intrigued by these straight-leg ponte pants from Spanx.
+This blouse is one of my favorite snags for fall — have been wearing it a ton already, and it’s on sale! I layered mine under joveralls for apple picking the other day!
+Gingham masks for fall.
+Love this pink fitness dress.
+Four pretty neutral cardigans for fall: this ruffled Mango, this belted Intermix, this J. Crew, and my pearl cardi.
+Drawn to this alternative to Dudley Stephens: even thinner material, and the pockets add interest.
+These themed craft kits are great for rainy afternoons.
+OK, this ivory dress!!!! Love the detail on the straps in the back.
+These Lizzie Fortunato earrings feel like they are designed to go with fall dresses like these.
+These tapered utility pants have been flying.
+Kind of drawn to Ugg’s new mini silhouette?
+Cashmere ballet slippers! These look like a dream.
+Love this simple taupe gingham tablecloth (under $30).
+Pretty gold dress.
+Coordinating Halloween jon jon and sister dress match.
+OO this table lamp is fantastic.
+Cutest corduroy dress for a little love.
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13 thoughts on “Desiderata.”
My dad read this to us at dinner every Sunday night. He had it framed and hung on the family room wall so that we walked past it as we left the house each morning. When he was placed in hospice one of my brothers or I would read it to him at night so that our voices and the words he wanted us to live by would be the last he would hear each day.
Oh my goodness — how lovely. I’m so glad you shared this. Sometimes I think these coincidences (i.e., me sharing this post today) are intentional calls to celebrate or connect with those who have passed away. Cheers to your Dad!!
I love the Desiderata. I remember first seeing it as a child at home in a framed print, but of course I appreciate it so much more as an adult. The words are so comforting to me, as someone with anxious tendencies.
Ellen’s story — wow. I was so moved by how beautifully she wrote about her grief too.
Truly beautiful, reassuring words in the Desiderata. And Ellen’s story — wow is the right word. So moving.
I typically shy away from any posts or musings on 9/11 – too close to home both literally and figuratively (from NY, lost my uncle that day). But oh boy am I glad that you linked Ellen’s post. Truly one of the best descriptions of grief I’ve read: “then suddenly, driving on the highway or checking out groceries, that grief bursts into any empty space”. Yes. And the bit about the biggest event of her son’s life being one he doesn’t remember. My heart!
On Desiderata – I’m honestly surprised that this poem seems relatively unknown. What simple to digest poetry, what good advice. Thank you so much for sharing!
Molly – I am so sorry for your loss, and can imagine that reading anything about that day/time would be difficult. I’m glad this particular one reached you at a good moment. I know – the part about “the biggest event in her son’s life” was so moving. I have a hard time imagining what she must have gone through with such a young son. I actually — it’s almost too intense to think about. Ahh.
I’m so glad you enjoyed the poem! I love it and can’t believe I’ve not come across it either!
I’m so, so sorry for your loss, Molly.
Jen, I am so glad you have come across Desiderata. My father gave me a framed copy of this when I was a teenager in the late 1970’s and it had a huge impact on me and I read it often. My favorite part is
“If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself”
Very helpful in accepting there were always going to be women who were thinner, prettier, richer. To this day I am comfortable with who and where I am. I really do have a “right to be here”.
Oh Megan, I love that section, too. It’s a reminder that there will not only be people “greater” than us, but also people who are aspiring to where WE are — something that I think a lot of us forget when we have our blinders on in our own narrow pursuits of self-improvement. Anyway, thanks for chiming in and what a lovely gift from your dad! I am already thinking I might have to print this and present it to my children at an opportune moment, i.e., when they head off to college.
I own and LOVE the SPANX pants you linked. I go into the office everyday and these are my go-to pants. They’re comfortable but look polished enough for a professional setting. I plan to buy the 4 pocket more casual version soon :). If you are between sizes, I would size up in these to keep them from looking like leggings.
On another note, I always love learning a new vocabulary word from your posts. I consider myself to have a fairly robust grasp of the English language and appreciate others who continue learning and sharing that with others.
Hi Melinda! Love a first-hand review. Thank you so much for chiming in! These seem like a great option for a step up from leggings!
And thank you, from one word-lover to another 🙂
Ellen’s post broke my heart. Thank you for sharing this beautiful poem.
So incredibly moving and I know you know her personally.
I feel like this poem and the path that brought me there (Ellen’s post) are entangled now in my mind, and both leave me feeling weepy and optimistic and level-headed and all the things. Sometimes it’s good to just feel it all.