Saturday, December 3, 2011

Lemons into Lemonade: a poem

To be happy in life,
you have to practice
turning lemons into lemonade.

I am speaking both literally and figuratively,
because there really is nothing like
a glass of homemade lemonade.

But the metaphor
about turning misfortune into fortune
is also important, I'm learning.

When my laptop broke,
I saw it as an opportunity
to read more books.

When all the music
on my iPod vanished, I thought,
"Now I get to find new music."

When my truck broke,
and I couldn't afford to fix it,
I thought, "Now I get to exercise more."

It's easy to go through life
wondering why raindrops
keep falling on your head.

But to learn to use those raindrops,
to see the hidden blessing,
is an occupation for the saint.

In America, we try to insulate
ourselves from pain,
and this is probably normal.

But, in my life, the most important
things have happened
when the insulation failed,

when I came into
direct contact
with life's bitter heart.

If I had not had a major
clinical depression
during my second year of college,

I may have never discovered
the importance of art.
Lemons into lemonade.

And if the art gallery I helped found
had not been a continuous
worrisome financial failure,

I might have gone along
thinking its purpose
was to make me money.

I don't think it's a coincidence
that out of the greatest tragedy
of American history,

human slavery and racism,
arose the only truly American
artforms: the blues and jazz.

I'm not saying the oppression
and suffering were justified.
Such things are never justified.

But the ability to transform
that suffering into beauty
was an occupation for

Charlie Patton and Son House
and Robert Johnson and Miles Davis
And Charlie Parker and John Coltrane.

Out of his Siberian exile,
Fyodor Doysoyevsky gave the world
The Brothers Karamazov.

Same thing with Dante and the Divine Comedy,
Milton and Paradise Lost,
Picasso and Guernica.

The ability to crush
the bitterness of tragedy
into sweet song

Is an occupation for the artist
and the saint, who are
sometimes one and the same.

I'm not saying, "Seek to suffer."
I'm saying, "Follow your heart
with fearlessness and tenacity."

If you do that, in this world,
you will probably suffer.
But what will you do next?


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