At the end of my remarks to the faculty and staff at our opening meeting on August 13, I shared a poem called “The Writer” by Richard Wilbur that I am so pleased to share with you here in turn. Go ahead. Listen to it. I’m not going anywhere. 😉 Among the things I love about the poem is the wisdom it offers to us as parents.
The off-hand “easy figure” initially voiced by the narrator as he watches his daughter at work – the child as a nautical navigator, “the stuff / Of her life” as “a great cargo” – fails the moment, not least because of the parent’s absence from the child’s ship. But the metaphor that assumes its place, of a bird “trapped in this very room” in which the child is working, is deeply felt by the narrator, not least because of his involvement in the memory of it. Just as parent and child were drawn closer through their shared experience of witnessing – but not inserting themselves in – the starling’s sustained struggle, so the parent is now drawn closer to the child through the experience of witnessing – but not inserting himself in – the child’s own sustained struggle.
All of us with children have, at various times, watched them “batter against the brilliance” of obstacles unseen and “drop like a glove” only to “wait… for the wits to try it again.” All of us have felt our spirits rise as the child finally “[beats] a smooth course for the right window… clearing the sill of the world.” What extraordinary discipline it requires not to rescue the starling in those moments!
I will confess to you that my eyes well up every time I read or hear the poem’s final stanza: “It is always a matter, my darling, / Of life or death, as I had forgotten. I wish / What I wished you before, but harder.” How extraordinarily high the stakes do feel for a struggling reader or mathematician or thespian or athlete or scientist – or new student at a new school. What extraordinary discipline it requires of us as parents to love, to encourage and to counsel but not to rescue. We must wish what we wished for our children before, but harder. Ever harder.
Always reason, always compassion, always courage. I wish you and your families a wonderful weekend.