The Lanyard, by Billy Collins
May 14, 2011 § 6 Comments
I knew I wanted to share this poem once I read it on Monday. But, time got away from me. I had a linen closet to organize (so proud of myself) and parks to go to (spring is finally, finally here).
On Sunday, we had a great Mother’s Day brunch at my sister’s house. All the young cousins played…well, more accurately, all the young cousins bounced themselves into a sweaty frenzy in the bouncy house while the adults drank mimosas and Bloody Marys on the deck and inexplicably spent an inordinate amount of time listening to and watching “Friday,” by Rebecca Black. (I will not link to it. You’re welcome.)
Oh, and 3 of the adults (my husband, sister, and brother-in-law) played Words with Friends on their i-things, while sitting next to each other.
My husband is now obsessed with Rebecca Black and Words With Friends. Thanks a lot Mother’s Day.
(I have to say, I received two lovely gifts as thanks for my motherly duties: luxurious new bath towels, which I ordered myself a week before Mother’s Day and then emailed my husband–”here’s the Mother’s Day gift I ordered. Thanks!” But as usual, he felt the need to one-up me and went and bought me a case–A CASE–of assorted red wines. Thanks, I think. It’s hard to focus; I’m so buzzed. Oh, and thanks to my Dad who gave me and my sisters massage and dinner gift certificates! We cannot wait for our girls’ day.)
But back to the poem, The Lanyard, that was shared in an RJ Julia newsletter, this poem, it brought me to tears. As I mentioned, I read it on Monday. And if you aren’t aware, there’s Sunday and then Monday comes afterwards. (Thanks, Rebecca Black).
Well, the poem especially resonated on the tail of my sister Kerry telling my Mom on Sunday how thankful she is for all she’s done for us. Especially in the years after the divorce when my sisters were very young and I was young, but not too young. Kerry, bless her and mimosas, said many of the things I wanted to say to my Mom, but was not able to say without succumbing to my leaky eye/shaky voice syndrome. Kerry, who has 4 kids, also said “I don’t know how you did it.” She doesn’t know how my mom raised 3 girls on her own. I don’t know how she did it either. I. Don’t. Know. How. She. Did. It.
(I’m not knocking my Dad at all. At all. But divorce is divorce and the Mom usually gets custody of the kids. My Dad was ALWAYS there when we needed him; he followed the shared custody agreement, which stipulated dinner on Wednesdays and full custody every-other weekend. He never missed a date.)
I, on the other hand, in my evil and–I truly believe– possessed teenage years missed many dates. I also tormented (there’s no better word to describe my antics) my Mom who worked crazy hours and had two other younger girls to care for. I showed no mercy to her in my teenage years.
I don’t want to embarrass myself on the internet by recounting how awful I was when I was younger. Nobody believes me when I tell the stories anyway because I’m so nice now. Seriously. I am often nauseatingly nice. I’m totally overcompensating for my past miscreant behavior. I want everyone to like me and that is a huge character flaw and a different blog post. </analysis>
Suffice to say, I was a good measure worse than your average teenager.
Which is why I get so emotional when it comes to thanking my Mom now. How do I begin to thank her for not murdering me or sending me away? How can I ever repay her for her sacrifices, patience, and limitless love? All of the Fiestaware pitchers, wii Fit Zumba videos, and ceramic fruit bowls in the world will never be sufficient thanks or repayment.
The line in Billy Collins’ poem that I believe is an absolute truth is: “…you can never repay your mother.”
But you can, I can, cherish her for the rest of my life. Love you and thank you, Mom <3
by Billy Collins
The other day as I was ricocheting slowly
off the pale blue walls of this room,
bouncing from typewriter to piano,
from bookshelf to an envelope lying on the floor,
I found myself in the L section of the dictionary
where my eyes fell upon the word lanyard.
No cookie nibbled by a French novelist
could send one more suddenly into the past–
a past where I sat at a workbench at a camp
by a deep Adirondack lake
learning how to braid thin plastic strips
into a lanyard, a gift for my mother.
I had never seen anyone use a lanyard
or wear one, if that’s what you did with them,
but that did not keep me from crossing
strand over strand again and again
until I had made a boxy
red and white lanyard for my mother.
She gave me life and milk from her breast,
and I gave her a lanyard.
She nursed me in many a sickroom,
lifted teaspoons of medicine to my lips,
set cold face-cloths on my forehead,
and then led me out into the airy light
and taught me to walk and swim,
and I, in turn, presented her with a lanyard.
Here are thousands of meals, she said,
and here is clothing and a good education.
And here is your lanyard, I replied,
which I made with a little help from a counselor.
Here is a breathing body and a beating heart,
strong legs, bones and teeth,
and two clear eyes to read the world, she whispered,
and here, I said, is the lanyard I made at camp.
And here, I wish to say to her now,
is a smaller gift–not the archaic truth
that you can never repay your mother,
but the rueful admission that when she took
that two-tone lanyard from my hands,
I was as sure as a boy could be
that this useless, worthless thing I wove
out of boredom would be enough to make us even.