Words of WonderPoem for today - Kathleen Jamie

Bird at the top of the world,
who knew
it would come to this?

What are you
singing? What are you
singing for?

Perhaps you just can’t
help yourself. Over
the entire hemisphere

your flute-phrases fall,
announcing spring again
– our northern spring,

stirring deep and dark
within bare forests,
advancing across plains

toward great cities
with their tatty city parks,
their plane-trees

shading street cafes.
Even the seas
present no obstacle,

no border, because
you’re welcome, bird,
singing at the top of the world.

by Kathleen Jamie


This poem was written by the current Makar (Scottish National Poet) Kathleen Jamie in February of this year, and knowing this draws my attention directly to where there are borders, obstacles, ‘not welcome’ messages, and even war closer to Kathleen’s and my home than there has been for a long time.

Among the many questions that rise up in response to taking in the news (and opinions!) about what’s happening in the world, I am visited by the one that I sometimes hear others with too: how can I enjoy myself when I know that others are suffering in unimaginable ways? Or even: how can I be upset about this difficulty in my life, when there is real suffering happening elsewhere? I hear the poem asking something similar of the bird: “What are you singing for?”

I remember being struck by a passage in Brene Brown’s wonderful book Braving the wilderness, where she speaks about the importance of cherishing joy and gratitude. She says:

… “I’ve interviewed people who have survived serious trauma ranging from the loss of a child to genocide. What I’ve heard over and over from fifteen years of hearing and holding their stories is this: When you are grateful for what you have, I know you understand the magnitude of what I have lost.

I’ve also heard that the more we diminish our own pain, or rank it compared to what others have survived, the less empathetic we are to everyone. That when we surrender our own joy to make those in pain feel less alone or to make ourselves feel less guilty or seem more committed, we deplete ourselves of what it takes to feel fully alive and fueled by purpose. […] The goal is to get to the place where we can think, I am aware of what’s happening, the part I play, and how I can make it better, and that doesn’t mean I have to deny the joy in my life.”

Taking this to heart leaves me with the intention to live with deep gratitude for all the goodness currently in my life, without diminishing my pain, and – to quote Akong Rinpoche – to help where help is needed. No mean feat. But moment to moment, one day at the time…


PS if you’d like to explore with others how to live a mindful, meaningful life, there is a new Level 1 ‘Being Present’ course starting soon…

Photo by Colin Davis on Unsplash