I've spent the past few weeks chipping away at the slow deconstruction of my tiny office in our Richmond townhouse; our lives are about to change in a whopping big way. After two-and-a-half years in the fascinating city of Richmond, Virginia, my husband and I are preparing for our return to northeast Ohio. Or, as I like to call it, the Land Where I Met the Love of My Life.
While removing the artifacts and "familiars" arrayed on my bulletin board, I came across a great treasure. It is a poem, yellowed with age and riddled with pinholes. It's coming with me. I will carefully tuck it away in a file for the move, where it will resume its rightful place -- I want to say "like a talisman," but that's not quite right and you'll see why in a moment -- in my new office. I also want to say I hope it will bring me luck, but that's not right either. The poem is actually about anti-luck, or, as the late American poet William Stafford called it:
The Little Ways that Encourage Good Fortune
Wisdom is having things right in your life
and knowing why.
If you do not have things right in your life,
you will simply be overwhelmed.
You may be heroic, but you will not be wise.
If you have things right in your life, and you
do not know why, you are just lucky,
And you will not move in the little ways that
encourage good fortune.
The saddest of all are those who are not right
in their own lives who are acting to make
things right for others.
They act only from the self, and that
self will never be right;
No luck, no help, no wisdom.
© 1960, 1998 The Estate of William Stafford
Used with Permission of the Executor, Kim Stafford
When I emailed the poet's son, Kim Stafford, asking for permission to reproduce this gem of a poem, I wrote that this is likely to be one of the poems I'd like read at my funeral. His reply?
"Perhaps the poem is more useful in the midst of life, when one can act so as to encourage the little ways...?"
And of course it is, which is why I'm sharing it with you here, thanks to Kim Stafford's good offices, and why I've always kept it close to my heart.
Kim also shared something his father once said: "I must be willingly fallible to deserve a place in the realm where miracles happen."
I love that. Instead of reflexively wishing someone (or myself) "good luck," I will try instead for the will to be fallible -- the courage to believe that I don't know everything -- that I cannot control everything. In that way, perhaps, I'll find myself in the realm where miracles happen.
What about you? Do you believe in "good luck"? Or do you think we make our own good fortune?
Note: Kim Stafford is an associate professor at the Lewis & Clark Graduate School of Education and Counseling in Portland, Oregon, where he directs the Northwest Writing Institute. He tells me that he and his colleagues are at work planning "The William Stafford Centennial, 2014: 100 Years of Poetry and Peace."