Thursday, May 18, 2006

Poetry Thursday - The Birthday Poem and The Birthday Project

I've been thinking all week about the poem I would post today. It's my birthday week after all so it had to be something that would stop me in my tracks and really make me think. It had to have that little punch of power that would grab my spirit and hold on for days.

For me birthdays are about celebrating life and growth. They're about new beginnings and taking some time to reflect and refocus. Its a rebirth offered generously to us every year. It's life whispering, "Here's your chance, your chance to start over again. Take it and don't look back except in gratitude and hope." But it's also not unusual for me to also think about death every new year, not because birthdays remind me of how little time I have left but because they remind me to live fully and passionately. This poem dares to voice the one truth we can't escape: our mortality. But it doesn't stir thoughts of fear. It offers that death may simply be another possibility, a fresh start, a new chance, a birthday of sorts.

For the Anniversary of My Death
by W. S. Merwin

Every year without knowing it I have passed the day
When the last fires will wave to me
And the silence will set out
Tireless traveler
Like the beam of a lightless star

Then I will no longer
Find myself in life as in a strange garment
Surprised at the earth
And the love of one woman
And the shamelessness of men
As today writing after three days of rain
Hearing the wren sing and the falling cease
And bowing not knowing to what

In yesterday's post I mentioned that I had a little birthday project going that I wanted to tell you about. Well here goes: The year I turned 29 I gave all the guests at my birthday dinner a copy of the beautiful poem The Time Before Death by Kabir. For my 30th birthday I passed roses out to 30 people who had contributed to the woman I was at that age. I spent two days driving around town searching for my junior English teacher, a former church member, old roommates, childhood friends, mentors I've adored, my swing dance partner, and coworkers who've made working a little brighter. I couldn't find everybody on my list but they still received their rose. The un-delivered roses sat in a beautiful vase in my living room in honor of their beautiful lives. I haven't done anything like that the past two years and I knew I wanted to get back to that tradition with this birthday. After all there is just something magical about the number 33. Three is such a special, magical, symbolic number on it's own but two of them sitting side by side is well, extra special, extra magical, and extra symbolic. And so I concocted a plan. I chose 33 cards from my SARK's Living Juicy deck and placed each card in a separate envelop. On the outside of the envelop I simply wrote, A gift for you. I spent yesterday spreading the SARK. I knew there were a few people I wanted to receive a card (mainly friends and coworkers) but the majority of them were randomly distributed around town. I casually dropped one on the sidewalk, tucked one in someone's windshield wiper, hid one in a book of Mary Oliver's poetry at Barnes and Noble, threw one out the window while driving down the block, left one in the book drop at the library, etc., etc., etc., until all 33 had been released into the universe. I was hoping, trusting, that whoever needed a little bit of inspiration would find a card. And that was my birthday project. My gift to the world on my 33rd birthday.


Blogger liz elayne said...

what a beautiful, and dare i say, succulent idea.
giving of yourself on your birthday. i love this!
and love the poem you have shared here as well.

6:22 PM  
Blogger Lazy cow said...

What a lovely idea. (I'm going to swipe that idea and do something similar for my 40th, hope you don't mind).
Happy belated birthday. I check in every day to read your amazingly honest, beautiful writing.

6:48 PM  
Blogger deirdre said...

I adore this idea of releasing cards to the universe. It tickles me to think of someone finding a SARK card just at the right time. I'm going to tuck that idea away.

8:19 PM  
Anonymous samantha said...

This makes me want to cry. What a beautiful gift to others.

And I adore W.S. Merwin - this poem is perfect indeed for such a day.

I also really like the number 33 - I call the time 3:33 "magic time". I used to see it especially when I was falling in love with Beaux, and I thought it meant something very mysterious and mystical. I still do.

9:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You truly are an inspiration. Thank you for your writing and the lovely things you do and aspire to do.

12:28 AM  
Blogger techa said...

Wonderful photo and post.

lots of smiles for your day

2:52 AM  
Blogger Toni said...

I too love SARK and love your birthday ideas.
My 8 year olds birthday is coming up in June and my 47th is coming up in July. I may have to begin the birthday week tradition with my little guy. He would love it.

I love your whimsey.

6:03 AM  
Anonymous Charmaine said...

What a wonderful gift to yourself -- you are so creative!

6:31 AM  
Blogger Alexandra S said...

We share the same birthday week! (mine is on Saturday the 20th and it looks like we are nearly exactly one year apart! Happiest birthday of birthdays to you!!!! I just adore how you celebrate them and use it as a time to express gratitude to the people you love in your life.

6:57 AM  
Blogger Josephine said...

That is super cool.

Very inspiring, Michelle. That really gives me something to think about, that on your day, you chose to give to others and spread happiness and love throughout your world.

You are an angel.

7:47 AM  
Blogger Heather said...

Jeesh you are genius!! What great, giving, ,loving ideas you have. I LOVE the card idea. beautiful, I know it encouraged a lot of people.

8:03 AM  
Blogger gkgirl said...

awwwww...that is a fantastic idea!
i love it...
and i love trying to imagine
the different repsonses
to each found card...

way to go!

i can't wait to see what you do
NEXT year

8:09 AM  
Anonymous Jennifer (she said) said...

What a beautiful idea and a beautiful gift. It fills me up just thinking about how much it could mean to somebody to find a bit of unexpected SARK. You are a lovely lovely human being.

Months ago I decided to leave random notes on mirrors around my campus. It felt too new, too cold. I wrote things on scraps of paper like "You look fantastic", etc. Stuff I would like to come across. It did so much for me, to give something feel like I'd connected to other people on campus and in a new place, even if I didn't know them.

9:17 AM  
Blogger Bohemian Girl said...

33 Juicy SARK cards sounds like the perfect gift to give yourself.


9:28 AM  
Blogger M said...

This sounds like such a brilliant idea! You are so giving, it's wonderful! I hope you're having a happy birthday week!!

9:33 AM  
Blogger Maya Stein said...

Firstly, a belated happy birthday to you. I have to say, having just turned 34, that the big 33 was, indeed, a wonderful year. I wouldn't say "electrifying" but I would say "committed" and "grounding" and "focused." I wish you all of that and more.

Secondly, I love the complete generosity of your Sark distribution (I keep singing that "New York" song in my head, except this time the lyrics go: "Sark spreading the news..."

Birthdays can be such a dubious rite of passage - I know I can't help but get a little introspective on that day. Something about the poignancy of leaving one year behind and graduating into the next. So I love that you took an idea and brought it into your outside world, rather than sitting too long with those "what do I want this year to be about" musings. I think this is the perfect kind of outreach, something about sending these Sark gifts out there, not knowing who they'll end up with but knowing they'll end up in the right hands. What a beautiful, unencumbered gesture of hope.

Blessings to you, Michelle.

10:05 AM  
Blogger Bogart said...

"Find myself in life as in a strange garment" This line says so much.

10:38 AM  
Anonymous beansprout said...

Wonderful poem and inspiring give-away! I hope your 33rd year is most magical. be well

11:10 AM  
Blogger Josephine said...


I just came back to read the poem because I was not emotionally prepared this morning, and WOW.

Thank you for this Michelle. It's soft and wonderful. I love it.

12:06 PM  
Blogger acumamakiki said...

I just got cool! I love, love, love this idea and only wish I could be the fly on the wall to see how people respond. Happy birthday again.

12:46 PM  
Blogger Living Part Deux said...

It's crazy beautiful (wish I could write that as one word) - this idea of yours. I absolutely love it. Lurking around, leaving anonymous notes of encouragement for people. Don't you just want to see the reactions, their joy? I would. You are indeed amazing!

12:54 PM  
Blogger Tongue in Cheek Antiques said...

you are one of a kind! Funny, a card flew into my hand as I walked along the seaside in Cassis, It was marked with your wishes and so I blew them back to you!
You are a superstar Michelle!!
Can I do this idea when I am 50? Do you mind?

1:48 PM  
Blogger Colorsonmymind said...

Beautiful, loving ideas.....why did you the last two years off?

You are simply lovely

6:33 PM  
Blogger tracey said...

What planet are you from? The coolest, sweetest, most thoughful planet EVER?
That portrait of you is awesome.
Kind kind girl.
Happy Birthday this week, you deserve someting wonderful.

6:47 PM  
Blogger Deb R said...

Perfect way to celebrate your special day!

9:42 PM  
Blogger twistedsoda said...

I adore this picture! You have the eyes of an angel!

1:08 AM  
Anonymous Marilyn said...

Woman, that is the most fabulously delicious photo I've seen of you yet. If I were you, I'd put that sucker right at the top of my so captures the YOU that I perceive you to be...the wildness combined with the sweetness. I'm just sayin'... ;)

I ADORE your birthday project idea! I'm so very, very glad to know you,'re truly one of a kind.

11:43 AM  
Blogger art and soul said...

i LOVE what you did withthe SARK cards on your birthday! a fabulous idea and way to celebrate!

2:18 PM  
Blogger Timothy said...

Hey-- found you searching for a WS Merwin poem online.

Thanks for it/his poem to celebrate your birthday. Great to read your ideas for being present -- celebrating what's loved and know.

Did you see Bill Moyers Journal? type it in search and look up the WS Merwin interview.


best fishes,


10:40 AM  

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