I knew her time was nearly at an end.
Having been a world-class pianist in her prime,
having been a pillar of Russian learning too,
having been accomplishment and motherhood
rolled into one, she offered her view...
I needed some precious stone in my pocket,
some reminder of what she held deeply true,
a sort of compass for the rest of my life.
By the living room window she sat,
glassy-eyed, my question seeping into
her consideration and morose eyes...
Sensitivity has been your second name
as it has mine; we've both been blessed
by it, Yasha; on account of it,
north and south and east and west
have become the vast petals of a rose,
the perfume of life, as well as the soil
that nourishes the fruit that grows
within the artist. It has cursed us too.
(Richness and happiness are not the same.)
Sadness and turbulence had made their claim
on us, we've been wounded, no thanks to it.
Yet I wouldn't for the life of me trade it.
You'll need wisdom, wisdom to balance it,
to cradle that softness that cries
and laughs wide-eyed. You'll need wit
as the companion wing of your innocence;
not only refinement, but good common sense.
You'll need attunement to others' needs,
to accept their peculiar pace and stage,
to accept they may not want the sage
or illumination or insightful things,
to see they may love their diseases more
than the light that meditation brings.
Don't bring them Dante, Mozart - some other star -
don't speak of Plato and philosopher kings
when all they asked for was maccaroni and cheese.
Yasha, you need to understand:
not all want beauty that brings them to their knees,
not all want culture, learning, or high art.
If you don't see this and accommodate them,
you'll needlessly disturb your heart.
You'll be angry, and what is more,
you'll miss some of the teachings
that may live and glow behind their door,
for everybody knows something
someone else doesn't. Being but aware
of what flies and thrives in rarefied air,
you may miss the jewel in the dirt -
or one that may be found anywhere.
Be modest and open enough
to dispense with what "ought to be", with "should",
seeing in others their peculiar good.
Above all, as beloved Shakespeare said,
be true to yourself: your resolve and hue
needn't grow wan if or when you see
others are far less concerned with what is true.
Yasha, you can achieve great things. You've shown
you are well on your way, but the play
of green envy will come upon your way;
you will meet with cynicism and mistrust.
Yet your heart, in the end, must carry the day,
and it is in your heart that my essence will live.
The stronger, you become, exuding light,
know that in your heart I'm taking delight.
Be intimate with only a few.
Let silence and restraint guide you
with others - not words that you take to be true.
Although I'm generally not a big fan of Shakespeare, there clearly are Shakespearan echoes in the last stanza. And yet I faithfully record here my mother's advice (with some creative license, of course).