Happy Birthday, Rumi and Me
Today is my 28th birthday. Birthdays have always been kinda hard for me, all the way since I was four and I had this beautiful confection birthday cake with roses that fell on the floor before I could taste them. I can’t help but think dark thoughts about getting older–those thoughts and feeling about what I’m doing, where I am in my life, where I am going, my regrets, and ohgod the meaning of life. Can’t help it–the image of those sugar roses on the linoleum floor still makes me sad.
So every year on my birthday I write myself a letter. And this morning going through my daily book of Rumi poems, I discovered that I share a birthday with this luminary, and he wrote himself a melancholy poem on this day in year 1207. So this year, I’m going to write my letter with Rumi, and I’m going to share it with you.
You that give new life to this planet,
you that transcend logic, come.
I am only an arrow. Fill your bow with me
and let fly. Because of this love for you
my bowl has fallen from the roof.
Put down a ladder and collect the pieces
Dear Something Bigger, fill me up. I’m starting to understand that the world is not all about me. I want to be a gift, a direction, a vehicle for love, and sometimes destruction. I can’t fathom being here in this world unless it’s for a reason bigger than this hurt, broken, healing, beautiful, terrified body. So hitch me up on your bow, Something Bigger, help me out. I have been trying to do this all alone, and when I don’t understand, I fall to pieces, I am making a mess. I am making a mess of love and destruction. Help.
People ask, Which roof is your roof?
I answer, Wherever the soul came from
and wherever it goes back to at night,
my roof is in that direction.
A Guru in Sanskrit means literally “dispeller of darkness” or bringer of the light. Coming out of a yoga class the other day, a student said, “Oh, were you just the guru in there?” I laughed and said no. I’m a teacher. It’s hard enough to clean up my own gu, so when people look up to me and ask me how to fix this, the only answer is: look into your own soul. You already know the answer. You are your only guru, the bringer of darkness and light.
From wherever spring arrives
to heal the ground, from wherever searching rises
in a human being. The looking itself is a trace
of what we are looking for.
I am not the only one who’s been hurt. We’ve all been hurt, it’s what we have in common, it’s how we understand each other. The best path is always healing, always hope. We are all looking, no one has it figured out. As long as we keep looking, as long as we are never done, we are human, we are doing fine. It’s okay that I am full of mistakes and fears and vulnerabilities. I keep looking, that’s how I find you. That’s how I find me.
But we have been more like the man
who sat on his donkey and asked the donkey where to go.
Sometimes, I want the donkey to tell me where do go. How the hell am I supposed to know where to go? I’m on a donkey.
Be quiet now and wait. It may be the ocean one,
the one we want so to move into and become
it may be that one wants us out here
on land a little longer
going our sundry roads to the shore.
And I don’t always have to know. Sometimes waiting is doing something. I always want to get into the water, I always want to be one with the waves, my body and my mind move, they hate obstacles, they have made a career of crashing down walls, wanting to be in the flow with something, wanting to be connected. I have found God in unrequited love, in heartbreak across the border, in loyal and imperfect friendship, in crying unexpectedly with a student. Love looks strange sometimes, but there it is.
Surround yourself with people that move you, people that are unafraid to have water in their eyes, people that love. But when they don’t, remember the healing of land, the gardens that can grow with patience and beauty and space. We are all going the same way anyway, step by donkey step, one path or another, to the place I’ve always believed God lived, on the strand, the place where sand and water meet, the shore.
I don’t have to know right now all the answers, I don’t have to be anywhere specific, and sometimes the answer is to stop trying to figure it all out. Rumi and I both know that love exists, Something Bigger is real because we can feel it, whether it’s God or human connection or love or something we can’t begin to understand. But we get hurt, it’s hard sometimes, and on a birthday you remember how little you are, how much you can’t do this all alone.
Dear Rumi, my bedside love, my morning kiss on the pillow, poem a page a day: happy birthday. We are just little humans doing our best. Looking in the mirror is sometimes hurtful. Keep looking, and see what you have already found. You make me older with wisdom, love and a poem, with many borders and 800 years and religion and language between us. Thank you.
And thank you to Coleman Barks, who translated across all those things, and my friend Hania who got me this book in the first place. Thank you for the yearlong birthday gifts.