Reflecting back the light.

Make Your Life a Sonnet

Reflecting back the light.

Poetry has a way of capturing the beauty and greatness of the world around you. It carries emotion, meaning and story. Humanity lives within the rhymes. But just as poetry reflects life, life echoes poetry. In particular, life follows the rhythm of a sonnet.

***

The rolling waves rise from ocean’s deep
Their mighty force moves upwards to the sky
But not for too long do their heights they keep
Descending to their troughs again to lie
The hopeful spring comes bursting in alive
Summer follows with playfulness and heat
But all of warmth the autumn’s winds deprive
And all find slumber under winter’s sheet
Colored sun arises from its slumber
To take a seat on heaven’s highest throne
Only to cast shadows through the lumber
As it falls to leave us starlight alone
Moving from rest to life and back to rest
In rhythm all of life can be expressed

Have you ever had your body tell you enough is enough? The last month is full and rich, but physically, my body tells me to stop. As I return from the World Domination Summit, I get sick. Apart from shipping my story on Tuesday morning, I accomplish nothing.

So I rest. I sleep. I sit in stillness with my wife. And the next day, I’m mostly back to normal. Balance is restored.

A defining element of a sonnet is rhythm. Up and down, words and syllables flow from one to the next. Like the soft waves on the ocean, moving from peak to trough, life also follows rhythm.

Some points burst with intensity. Maybe you push hard to get a project out the door on schedule. Perhaps you unleash everything in a final sprint at the end of a run. Or you may summon deep knowledge as you work through a difficult dilemma. It feels good.

Twenty kilometers we run. Step. Step. Step. Step. One after another we near the end. The pace quickens. All energy pours into the final kilometer. Finished. I have given my everything.

You are made to perform at your peak. To be human is to excel – to push the limits. But you can’t stay up there all the time. Eventually the wave comes down.

In between those highs, you need to rest. Maybe you don’t work for a few days. Perhaps you sit in silence for a while. Or you may let your mind wander through a novel. Calm. Relaxed. At ease.

The race is over. Slowly I walk. Step. Pause. Step. Pause. No hurry. No more running. As I sip from a cup of water and celebrate with friends, my heart rate slows to a relaxed pace. It will stay there for a few days.

If you read a sonnet, and a line does not follow the rhythm, you notice. It feels unnatural. Likewise, break the rhythms of life and your body will catch up with you. Maybe you lose the ability to do any work at all. Perhaps you catch a physical sickness. Or you may not wish to spend time with anyone. Like a cresting wave, you crash.

Thankfully, the body is resilient. Like the water drawing back into the ocean after a wave, preparing for the next one, you will recover. Move forward. Keep the rhythm.

You don’t need to rest in all forms at once though. Different cycles flow together. The absence of relating to others on a difficult run refreshes you emotionally. The lack of physical activity while working through a challenging puzzle recharges you physically. The variations act like crop rotation for human beings.

***

Before you tell me who you have become
Let me speak to those of your fair household
Brothers and sisters and father and mum
They will show the values that you uphold
Before you tell me for what things you stand
Let me see the ones that you call a friend
Each of them that belongs to your small band
Echoes what in death’s face you will defend
And before you show me the road ahead
Let me know the cultures that you’ve been to
For all the lands in which you make your bed
Weave in and through the story that is you
Your life takes on the shape of countless rhymes
Which then appear in endless ways and times

Another defining feature of a sonnet is the rhyme – each line echoes back to another. Likewise, your life reflects back the stories of other people. You take on the attributes of your environment.

You echo your family. Do your parents show a special kindness toward orphans? Maybe you show the same compassion. Do your grandparents have a generous heart? Perhaps you give just as openly.

You echo your friends. You share similar values. You embody elements of their character. It is said that you are the average of your friends. Pick those that reflect the kind of person you wish to become.

You echo your culture. Where you are from is a part of you. Even if you are from many places, the cultures join into your story. You echo pieces of them all.

The rhyme is subtle most of the time – choosing to live in the nuances of your life. But sometimes it pops up in places and ways you don’t expect. When you see it, it’s beautiful.

One night a group of us stand talking with a street performer in Cape Town – exchanging stories. He comments to me afterwards that I speak with a different accent than the others – it sounded more like that of a native. From a childhood of living in Africa, I now echo the accent of where I am. Fun.

***

Have you heard of the man down by the sea
Who plays each day in his small box of sand
With a smile on top of his gray goatee
He lets the tiny grains slip through his hand
I asked him once why he chose to be bound
By his little square made of walls of stone
When the expanse of beach spreads all around
And the whole of it could all be his own
With a kind voice he spoke into my heart
If I were from this place to go extend
How could I find the place from which to start
How could I find the point on which to end
But in this structured space that worry falls
And play and laughter live within these walls

In the rejection of rigid and confining rules and patterns, structures fall by the wayside. But don’t discard them so quickly. Their power still enriches and deepens life.

Structures enshrine the characteristics and values you cherish. With daily, weekly, and monthly rituals you can move toward who you wish to be.

I value my relationship with my wife. It is important to spend time with her. One structure we establish is that the hour before church on Sunday mornings belongs to us alone.

At 8:30, all other activities must be complete – including eating breakfast, taking showers, and getting ready. We then sit down with a cup of coffee or tea. Some days we choose silence. On others we converse. It is ours. The structure bestows on us the freedom to treasure the other.

Structures eliminate the need to worry about what is unimportant. When you walk you don’t think about each movement – the body has a structure for walking. When you talk you don’t ponder every sound – the body has a structure for speaking. Your mind is limited in its ability to manage everything. Creating patterns and habits lets you focus on what matters.

Rituals don’t have to be rigid. Even within the rules of a sonnet, a thousand variations exist. Part of the freedom comes from the flexibility to choose and adapt the patterns in your life.

***

On dusty earth do mortal footprints tread
Bound to within our cage of selfish lies
And on that day we go to face the dead
Time’s wind does cast aside our pale disguise
The memory of who we are then fades
Forgotten are our great and mighty deeds
Which then appear as sandy palisades
For waves of time to crush as broken reeds
But for those times we lived beyond our own
By touching and affecting other lives
They become as footprints made in the stone
And through their life our memory survives
A noble cause becomes our legacy
Ne’er to be shattered by time’s raging sea

Sonnets rarely sing praise to themselves. Some elevate love. Some mourn with the pain of loss. Others reach toward the heavens. They go beyond.

The best life is one that goes includes the without in addition to the within – one that makes others matter. Often this takes the form of a cause or purpose.

Faith can be one such purpose, but not everyone lives for faith in and of itself. It is important, but is also broad. Within it or without it, you have something specific that stirs your heart.

You may care about orphans or refugees. You may have passion for encouraging those who hurt. You may wish to help people spread their message. You may love to see others live healthy lives. You have a why.

I care about humanity. I value people. I fight for the human story.

From that central purpose, you act. And each choice, each mark you make, sings to something higher.

What does your life sing to? What is your cause?

***

And when the pieces join all in one song
When rhythm bounces in step with the rhyme
A symphony instead of sounding gong
A set of bells instead of single chime
And when within the structure freedom rings
To move and act for that something higher
A court instead of solitary kings
A builder instead of raging fire
Your eye shines full of heaven’s holy light
Your heart is wise with angel’s sanity
Your life burns with ever increasing bright
A testament to all humanity
You are a beauty worth much more than gold
A most magnificent life to behold

###

Reflecting back the light. I made this photo in Michigan.

7 thoughts on “Make Your Life a Sonnet”

  1. Josh, I especially liked this one. Maybe because I love the ocean so much, especially the ocean in Kenya. I heard more of your roots – loved your poetry. Keep on with this. You have a gift!!!

  2. I love your analogy, especially the part about breaks and things that don’t quite fit and the importance of taking a Sabbath. That’s something I’ve been learning a lot about in the last year…taking breaks and Sabbaths instead of pushing through the same old same old.
    Keep writing. I enjoy it.

  3. Joshua, do you write all this poetry? I didn’t know that. You are truly gifted and have a wonderful way of seeing the world. Thank you for sharing your way with all of us.

  4. Joy,
    I’m finding that even on a smaller scale – such as writing, breaks have a lot of value. A short walk in between bursts of writing lets me write at a higher level – speed, quality, motivation.

    Frances,
    Writing the poetry is half the fun. 🙂

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