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“After a While”

17 January 2011

One of my friends, V., bought a used copy of Everything is Illuminated at a used bookstore in Brookline, a town that virtually cuts the two westernmost neighborhoods of Boston from the rest of the city. While she was riding the subway on the first day back to work last week, she thumbed through the book to find her bookmark. Instead of her spot, the book opened to a different page, where she found a funeral card for a woman who had died in New Jersey a few years ago. On the back of the funeral card, she found a poem. She had just entered the underground portion of the subway system, without cell phone service or any other way of telling anyone what was going on. She just sat there, with this poem that was exactly what she needed to hear in that moment. And when she told me the story and read the poem, I was as floored as she had been.

She said that her family believes, somewhat like mine, that coincidence does not exist. If a “coincidence” is devoid of meaning, you’re simply not looking hard enough. I firmly think the same way. And this whole ordeal sures up that belief for me.

Poem by Veronica A. Shoffstall

After a while you learn
the subtle difference between
holding a hand and chaining a soul,
And you learn that love doesn’t mean leaning
And company doesn’t mean security.

And you begin to understand
that kisses aren’t contracts,
and presents aren’t promises.
And you begin to accept your defeats
with your head held high and your eyes open,
with the grace of a woman,
not the grief of a child.

And you learn
to build your roads on today
because tomorrow’s ground is
too uncertain for plans,
and futures have a way
of falling down in mid-flight.

After a while you learn
that even sunshine burns if you get too much.
so you plant your own garden
and decorate your own soul,
instead of waiting
for someone to bring you flowers

And you learn
that you can really endure…
that you really are strong
and you really do have worth
and you learn and learn …
with every goodbye you learn.

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