Things Could Have Been Otherwise

Wednesday, January 11, 2017 - 5:30am
Photo by John Wessels

Things Could Have Been Otherwise

What does it mean to live a good life? Millions of words have been written on the subject. But if I had to name just a few essentials, “gratitude” would surely be one of them. It’s a simple virtue. And yet it’s easy to forget how important it is to pause now and then in the midst of a busy day and be thankful.

Since I first read this Jane Kenyon poem 16 years ago, I’ve tried to keep reminding myself that “it might have been otherwise.” Remembering that fact takes me directly to gratitude for the ordinary, everyday things the poet celebrates.

The poem was written shortly before Kenyon died of leukemia at age 47. She wrote it knowing that things would soon be “otherwise” for her. I’m very grateful for the spirit she summoned as she was dying in order to leave us this gift, these words of reminder and guidance.

by Jane Kenyon

I got out of bed
on two strong legs.
It might have been
otherwise. I ate
cereal, sweet
milk, ripe, flawless
peach. It might
have been otherwise.
I took the dog uphill
to the birch wood.
All morning I did
the work I love.

At noon I lay down
with my mate. It might
have been otherwise.
We ate dinner together
at a table with silver
candlesticks. It might
have been otherwise.
I slept in a bed
in a room with paintings
on the walls, and
planned another day
just like this day.
But one day, I know,
it will be otherwise.

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Parker J. Palmer

is a columnist for On Being. His column appears every Wednesday.

He is a Quaker elder, educator, activist, and founder of the Center for Courage & Renewal. His books include Healing the Heart of Democracy, A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life, and Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation.

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This piece reinforces my own experience using perspective as a tool to easily find gratitude. I'm grateful for having the awareness to know my life is full of abundance.

Her husband. Donald Hall has written too about such things as ordinary happiness, and how hard it has been in the now many years since Jane's untimely death. For them, it has been otherwise. Please don't waste a moment of this your one precious thinking about someday...

Thank you,Parker,for reminding me and all who follow your writings about gratitude !
The poem you shared is new to me ,and such a gift ! As life moves on I have already lost many dear friends who enriched my life so greatly over decades, and others suffer and have health problems.
Gratitude for all that was given ,gratitude for all that is given,and gratitude for all that will be given,I desire to live out of.
How precious is every moment given is! I hope I never forget.
Thank you for all your sharing.

A reminder I desperately needed to hear in this season. I have so many excuses for not living out of a place of gratitude, but they are so thin.

Thanks for this lovely poem by Jane Kenyon, which reminds me of another extolling the beauty of the ordinary:

Ordinary Day
by Steve Garnaas-Holmes

An ordinary day, nothing special,
no big events, nothing on the calendar,
not going anywhere, doing anything.

Resist the temptation to think of it as dull.
Renounce the desire to be entertained.
This is a day you are needed:

to be attentive, to listen deeply,
to give God some loving company,
to extend loving mercy to the world.

Enter the monastery of your life.
Let the whole day be prayer and praise,
a meditation on the presence of God.

Let every ordinary thing you do,
the meeting, the lunch, and the dishes,
be an act of devotion, of becoming light.

Let this day be holy, a gift from God,
and be deeply present to every bit.
Thank God that this grace is the usual thing.

Very good reflection on what's important. I live every day with care because my husband has Alzheimer's and I do not
want confrontation which upsets me and him. I am grateful for every harmonious day.