‘There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.’
There I was, a Sunday morning, minding my own business mowing the lawn, when a neighbour walked by and began talking with me. I had seen her a couple of weeks previously, at a reading, but not since.
‘That poem!’ she said. ‘The one about the handkerchief. It’s marvellous!’
‘The one I read?’
‘The one you read, exactly! I love it,’ she said.
‘I’m so pleased you like it,’ I say.
‘I took a photo of it and emailed it to my daughters,’ she said. ‘One of them was on a conference call at the time. And there she was, blubbing in the middle of the meeting. She said she shouldn’t have been looking , but felt compelled to. It was a tough one for her to explain away, I can tell you!’
‘I love that,’ I said. ‘Poetry in the middle of a meeting! Just think of it.’
And then we fell silent and just looked at each other for a moment.
‘Anyway,’ she said. ‘I just wanted to tell you. I thought you might like to know. And thank you.’
‘Thank you,’ I said.
And she was off.
As I switched the mower back on I thought back to discovering Maura’s marvellous ‘Mansize’. I could still see the exact place, the traffic backed up between Balham and Tooting, how I was late for an appointment, how my only recourse was the radio, and how her poem broke through the otherwise lost afternoon, creating connection and surprise where there had previously been none. And how grateful I was (still am, always will be) for that. To Maura. To her poem. To the universe for putting it in front of me.
And of how I nearly didn’t start copying out poems, just for myself, into a book, after I had cancer. And how I nearly gave up once I had started. And how I nearly didn’t start blogging about them. And how I nearly gave up once I did.
And I thought: none of this would have happened. The book, the reading, my neighbour coming to the reading, her sharing it with her daughters, one of them crying in a meeting, our conversation over the wall on a Sunday… none of it.
The whole world would have been different.
The next day I got an email from Maura. It was not related to her being in Lifesaving Poems, but in a strange and oblique way I think it was.
I read it and was suddenly reminded of the way I read Brendan Kennelly’s ‘May the Silence Break’ to a friend with head injuries, as they lay in a coma more than twenty years ago, and how I am certain this formed part of their healing. I thought of how that poem is now part of another friend’s life, on my recommendation, in another hospital. And of how I am certain it will heal them, too, against all the odds, and against all of what science would persuade me is true.
It’s not the same as a woman finding a poem on her phone in a meeting and crying, but it’s close. A miracle, you might say.
A chance meeting with a neighbour.
An email from the same poet we talked about.
The secret life of poems, copied and shared, trembling, against all the odds, against what Ted Hughes called the ‘crush of information’ that would threaten to overwhelm us all. The strength of weak ties, somebody called it. When I am most weak, that is when I am strong, as I think St Paul says somewhere. Paradox. Sharing. Connection. Poetry. It’s what we come here for.