Birthdays and Deathbeds

I am by nature, an introvert. I really enjoy people, but my social tank gets filled up rather quickly, and I tend to get more energized with solitude. This introversion has progressed especially since becoming a mama, and I find that my word quota is maxed out by about 5:30 every evening. I end up with nothing left to give socially, and no desire to receive much, either. There are days that I’d like to hide away (there are days that I do hide away) instead of interacting with others. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with feeding my introvert on occasion – to re-energize – but there is danger in over-indulging, and believing that I can do this life thing on my own. (In the same way there is danger in extroverts depending completely on the company of others for survival.)

Years ago, a favorite professor gave me a book of poems as a graduation gift. I enjoyed reading the book partly because I appreciate poetry, but mostly because reading it gave me a sense of belonging in the midst of post-college obscurity. I had just completed a (worthwhile, but not monetarily valuable) degree in writing. Shockingly enough, I didn’t have mobs of publishers clawing at my door, begging for my work; I just had a lot of…time.

In the quiet of a coffee shop, I sat reading each poem, feeling rather sophisticated as I sipped on my cappuccino (pinky extended, I’m sure) pretending to understand the deeper meaning behind each verse. But there was one poem in particular (that I really did understand) that spoke to me, and through the years has shaped my life in some way. It’s challenged my introverted tendencies (like sitting in a coffee shop all by myself with my nose in a book). It has often floated into my mind on occasions when I’ve felt tempted to retreat inward rather than reaching out to others and embracing what feels exceedingly uncomfortable. There have been many times that I’ve wanted to share this poem with friends, but didn’t know how to do that without ostensibly sticking my nose in the air. (Poetry has a way of doing that, you know.)

But today is my birthday. And birthdays (deathbeds, too, I suppose) give platform to a good commemorating speech, without the interruption of opposing opinions from the audience, and maybe even receiving a few humoring nods of agreement.

So for my birthday, I’d like to (virtually) recite this poem. Not to try and teach a lesson, or to convince the world that because I’ve read it that I have somehow managed to become what it says (any more than watching a YouTube video on self-defense makes me a black belt). I want to share it because it’s shaped me. I still struggle. There are days when I close all my blinds and lock the door. Days that I want to run fast and far because relationships are hard and messy and hermit life sounds a lot safer. I just want to share it because it’s been so impactful on my life, and today I celebrate life.

Chances are, I’ll probably recite it on my deathbed, too.

house by the road

The House by the Side of the Road

Sam Walter Foss (1858-1911)

There are hermit souls that live withdrawn

In the place of their self-content;

There are souls like stars, that dwell apart,

In fellowless firmament;

There are pioneer souls that blaze their paths

Where highways never ran –

But let me live by the side of the road

And be a friend to man.

 

Let me live in a house by the side of the road,

Where the race of men go by –

The men who are good and the men who are bad,

As good and as bad as I.

I would not sit in the scorner’s seat,

Or hurl the cynic’s ban –

Let me live in a house by the side of the road

And be a friend to man.

 

I see from my house by the side of the road,

By the side of the highway of life,

The men who press with the ardor of hope,

The men who are faint with the strife.

But I turn not away from their smiles nor their tears

Both parts of an infinite plan –

Let me live in a house by the side of the road

And be a friend to man.

 

I know there are brook-gladdened meadows ahead

And mountains of wearisome height;

That the road passes on through the long afternoon

And stretches away to the night.

But still I rejoice when the travelers rejoice.

And weep with the strangers that moan,

Nor live in my house by the side of the road

Like a man who dwells alone.

 

Let me live in my house by the side of the road –

It’s here the race of men go by.

They are good, they are bad, they are weak, they are strong,

Wise, foolish – so am I;

Then why should I sit in the scorner’s seat,

Or hurl the cynic’s ban?

Let me live in my house by the side of the road

And be a friend to man.