Culture

Promises to Keep

There was a bookshelf in the house I grew up in that never changed. It was like the ruins of an ancient civilization left behind for those after the fall to decipher. My parents divorced when I was young. And the shelf was full of things from the life my mom had before the break and the harder times that came after. I knew her as a struggling single mom trying to keep her boys in the suburbs on a teacher’s salary. She was a blackjack dealer at the casinos at night. She ran the country store at a pig farm in the summer. She saw herself as in intellectual once. She studied French and traveled abroad after college. But those times were gone.

We weren’t poor. We just never had any extra. We never went anywhere. Nothing ever got fixed. And the books on the book shelf stayed the same. It was like a pocket watch frozen at the time of a wreck. I read as many of them as I could. Staring at the same stack of books for 18 years and not wondering what was in them just didn’t seem right. 

One of them was a book of poems by Robert Frost. I read that one the most because I could understand it better than the others; the way a child can understand less abstract poetry about trees and stones and snow and make my own feelings about what they meant before anyone else had the chance to muddy them up with ideas about what they were supposed to mean. The one I dog eared was Stopping By Woods on A Snowy Evening.

I couldn’t get away from the thought of silent falling snow and the contrast of activity and heat of the lone horseman on travel into the snowy wood at night. A thousand times since in a thousand places around the world I felt the words with me when I paused to look out at a deep blue ocean. Or an endless desert. Or a million stars in the darkness of night staring back at me while I worked. You had to take a second to look back at it. To feel the heat of your energy against the abyss.

It’s not logical. It’s no place to stop. There is no farmhouse near. But we do it. The stillness gives meaning to the movement. 

There’s nothing remarkable about the New Year in a literal sense. The earth is simply another 1.6 million miles further in its orbit than it was the day before. But we use this time as a pause. We reflect. We grieve. We celebrate. But our pause comes to an end. The New Year has come. And there’s work to be done. Here between the woods and frozen lake, it’s time to get back on the horse and ride. It’s time to put Frost’s peaceful woods behind us.

It’s time for Dylan Thomas’ Rage Against the Dying of the Light. It’s time for Frederick Douglas’ storm, whirlwind and earthquake. We’ve got battles to win. We’ve got a world to vaccinate. We’ve got a democracy to bolster. Environments to sustain. We’ve got a future to build out from the wreckage of an old dying time. Cowen’s Great Stagnation is behind us. But the future we want won’t surrender easily. It’s going to take the full force of human energy locked down into what’s left between the social distance these past nine months. 

Here between the woods and frozen lake…we pause. We breath. We feel the ground beneath us. And then we get back to work. 

It’s time for big ideas. It’s time to build. And it’s time for movement. 

We’ve got promises to keep. And miles to go before we sleep.

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5 replies »

  1. Just what I needed to read as I contemplate high school English lesson plans for the new semester.

  2. This has always been a poem I recite while enjoying snowy days here. I too draw the analogy to standing still in many places to reflect and to know I must enjoy the moment and be determined to proceed with promises to keep . I do so appreciate this post. Thank you for sharing.