Posts Tagged ‘Poem’


For a few years we lived in a city nearby, where seniors were a growth industry! No matter if you drove, shopped, went to the library, the coffee shop or the gym seniors were everywhere.

Most were friendly, some were grouchy, some couldn’t hear well, some couldn’t see well, some forgot to bath. It was a terrific community for our children to grow and learn in their preschool, and early elementary years. To go to town meant that they would be talked to, smiled at, and sometimes have a wrinkled hand touch theirs. As a family with grandparents on the other side of the country, this elder-world we called home was a welcomed and adored atmosphere.

Hubby is also a pastor, and so our kids have had the great benefit of being around people of a variety of ages within our church communities over the years.

I think all of us have had awkward moments and experiences with those who are older. Perhaps it was a visit to a care home full of unpleasant smells, odd noises and residents staring off into the distance. Or maybe it was the annual Christmas visits with that older relative who squeezed your cheeks, or referred to your legs as chubby, or who asked you the same question over and over again.

The other day I clicked on a link to an article that originated at Elder Helpers, which touched my heart. This article awakened within me the desire to remember that those whose age is doubled my own, were once my age … feeling similar things, facing similar struggles, giggling at the same silly things.

Enjoy this poem, and the story which is similar for many silver-haired ladies and gents.

The context below is imaginary, the poem was written originally by Phyllis McCormack and adapted by Dave Griffith.

When an old man died in the geriatric ward of a nursing home in an Australian country town, it was believed that he had nothing left of any value.
Later, when the nurses were going through his meager possessions, They found this poem. Its quality and content so impressed the staff that copies were made and distributed to every nurse in the hospital.

One nurse took her copy to Melbourne. The old man’s sole bequest to posterity has since appeared in the Christmas editions of magazines around the country and appearing in mags for Mental Health. A slide presentation has also been made based on his simple, but eloquent, poem.And this old man, with nothing left to give to the world, is now the author of this ‘anonymous’ poem winging across the Internet.
Cranky Old Man
What do you see nurses?…….     What do you see?
What are you thinking…….   when you’re looking at me?
A cranky old man,…….    not very wise,
Uncertain of habit…….    with faraway eyes?
Who dribbles his food…….    and makes no reply.
When you say in a loud voice…….    ’I do wish you’d try!’
Who seems not to notice…….    the things that you do.
And forever is losing…….     A sock or shoe?
Who, resisting or not…….     lets you do as you will,
With bathing and feeding…….    The long day to fill?
Is that what you’re thinking?…….    Is that what you see?
Then open your eyes, nurse…….    you’re not looking at me.
I’ll tell you who I am…….     as I sit here so still,
As I do at your bidding, …….     as I eat at your will.
I’m a small child of Ten…….    with a father and mother,
Brothers and sisters…….   who love one another
A young boy of Sixteen…….   with wings on his feet
Dreaming that soon now…….     a lover he’ll meet.
A groom soon at Twenty…….    my heart gives a leap.
Remembering, the vows…….    that I promised to keep.
At Twenty-Five, now…….    I have young of my own.
Who need me to guide…….     And a secure happy home.
A man of Thirty…….     My young now grown fast,
Bound to each other…….   With ties that should last.
At Forty, my young sons…….    have grown and are gone,
But my woman is beside me…….     to see I don’t mourn.
At Fifty, once more,…….    Babies play ’round my knee,
Again, we know children…….    My loved one and me.
Dark days are upon me…….     My wife is now dead.
I look at the future…….    I shudder with dread.
For my young are all rearing…….     young of their own.
And I think of the years…….      And the love that I’ve known.
I’m now an old man…….      and nature is cruel.
It’s jest to make old age…….      look like a fool.
The body, it crumbles…….      grace and vigor, depart.
There is now a stone…….    where I once had a heart.
But inside this old carcass…….    A young man still dwells,
And now and again…….    my battered heart swells
I remember the joys…….    I remember the pain.
And I’m loving and living…….     life over again.
I think of the years, all too few…….      gone too fast.
And accept the stark fact…….     that nothing can last.
So open your eyes, people…….     open and see.
Not a cranky old man.
Look closer…   see…….   ME!!Remember this poem when you next meet an older person who you might brush aside without looking at the young soul within. We will all, one day, be there, too!The best and most beautiful things of this world can’t be seen or touched. They must be felt by the heart!”

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Until I watched the 2002 movie, “A Walk to Remember”, I had no knowledge of people making lists of what they hoped to do before they die. Until the 2007 movie, “The Bucket List”, I had no understanding of what a bucket list was.

Since seeing those hilarious, sorrow filled, thought provoking movies, thoughts of what do I want to do before I die have ebbed and flowed in my mind.

Pondering what we want to do before we die first requires that we admit that we will, one day, leave this life that we know. That can, in itself, be a sobering thought. I believe it was pastor and sociologist Tony Campolo who said, “I don’t want to die, I like it here.”

Last year I happened to have gotten a ‘like’ from a woman who is also a blogger. When I checked out her blog I discovered that Ms. Lesley Carter had taught high school in Riverview, New Brunswick … just a hop, skip and a jump up the mighty Petitcodiac River from where I grew up. This meant that we are almost related. She has a brilliant blog called Bucket List Publications which accepts donations to a fund, as well as applications to ‘win’ the means to fulfill a bucket list dream. Lesley works along with her hubby, Darren, to choose at least one lucky winner each month. Her blog writing has inspired me, from my first reads, and the dream fulfilling that they are doing is spectacular.

Bucket List Publications says that this quote, by Eleanor Roosevelt, describes their goals perfectly, “the purpose of life, after all, is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experiences.”

Just this weekend, my eldest daughter introduced me to “the Buried Life” television program. Four blogger guys (Ben, Dave, Duncan and Jonnie … Canadians and Americans) who all attended university together in Victoria, B.C. In 2006 they set off across North America to fulfill their list of one hundred things to do before you die. Then, as each item was crossed off, they would then, in turn, assist a total stranger fulfill one thing that they have always wished they could one day do.

(If you wanna check out this show go to mtv and watch the episode where they help deliver a baby … so worth the watch)

They make the ridiculous fit like a glove with the series, the meaningful the somber. They leave you with the question, “what do you want to do before you die.”

I wonder, what do I want to do before I die?

In so many ways, I have done all that I ever wanted to do, already. But, I might only be half way through this life I have been given, and I feel a need to seek out more from this life than I have already done, and tasted, and seen, and experienced … and given.

The Buried Life guys got their name from a poem written over one hundred and fifty years ago, by Matthew Arnold. Just a small sampling follows :

“But often, in the world’s most crowded streets,
But often, in the din of strife,
There rises an unspeakable desire
After the knowledge of our buried life;
A thirst to spend our fire and restless force
In tracking out our true, original course;
A longing to inquire
Into the mystery of this heart which beats
So wild, so deep in us–to know
Whence our lives come and where they go …
… And there arrives a lull in the hot race
Wherein he doth for ever chase
That flying and elusive shadow, rest.
An air of coolness plays upon his face,
And an unwonted calm pervades his breast.
And then he thinks he knows
The hills where his life rose,
And the sea where it goes. ”

What do you want to do, before you die?

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I remember a Christmas ‘pageant’ where I did a ‘recitation’ when I was still a preschooler. It was at the church of my grandmother, and it was she who taught the poem to me. I remember how very many people were staring back at me (the church probably doesn’t hold more than seventy people, but as a preschooler, it seemed like hundreds). I also remember her voice whispering the lines to me (memorizing has never been a strength for me).

The poem I had recited many years ago, was the final verse of a poem written by Christina Rossetti. Later music was added and it is known as the Christmas carol ‘In the Bleak Midwinter’. The poem goes as follows:

In the bleak midwinter frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone:
Snow had fallen, snow on snow
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter,
Long ago.

Our God, heaven cannot hold him nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away when he comes to reign:
In the bleak mid-winter
A stable-place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty
Jesus Christ.

Enough for him, whom cherubim worship night and day,
A breastful of milk, and a mangerful of hay:
Enough for him, whom angels
Fall down before,
The ox and ass and camel
Which adore.

Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air –
But only his mother
In her maiden bliss
Worshipped the beloved
With a kiss.

What can I give him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd I would bring a lamb;
If I were a wise man
I would do my part;
Yet what I can, I give him –
Give my heart.

The final (bolded) lines are from my recitation of many years ago (the fact that this is called a ‘recitation’ is evidence of that fact). And, although I was not so very successful at memorizing them, they have stayed with me for all of my life. There is something beautiful, dreamy and haunting about both the poem, and the music that was added to it. I have to say my favorite version is by Sarah McLaughlin, a few years ago, on her Wintersong CD.

Although this is not just a question of Christmas, I am asking myself this season the same question that Ms. Rossetti asked of herself. What can I give him, poor as I am?

If I were a poet, I would write him a song.

If I were a carpenter, I would build him a home,

If I were …

But all he wants,

Is my heart,

And your heart.

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