Reading Time: 2 minutes
BY MARIE HOWE
We stop at the dry cleaners and the grocery store
and the gas station and the green market and
Hurry up honey, I say, hurry,
as she runs along two or three steps behind me
her blue jacket unzipped and her socks rolled down.
Where do I want her to hurry to? To her grave?
To mine? Where one day she might stand all grown?
Today, when all the errands are finally done, I say to her,
Honey I’m sorry I keep saying Hurry—
you walk ahead of me. You be the mother.
And, Hurry up, she says, over her shoulder, looking
back at me, laughing. Hurry up now darling, she says,
hurry, hurry, taking the house keys from my hands.
Poem copyright ©2008 by Marie Howe, and reprinted from “When She Named Fire,” ed., Andrea Hollander Budy, Autumn House Press, 2009. First published in “The Kingdom of the Ordinary” by Marie Howe, W.W. Norton, 2008.
I first heard this poem when the author, Marie Howe, read it aloud on NPR’s On Being at https://onbeing.org/programs/marie-howe-the-poetry-of-ordinary-time/.
[I don’t know why this link isn’t working, but if you do a search for “Marie Howe On Being,” the entire transcript of the interview pops up.]
I can relate to the mother in this poem so well; my guess is that most mothers can. We spend our lives running (quite literally) from one task, job, chore, errand, children’s activity, meeting, class, rehearsal, party, event… to the next. What often happens is that one or more of your children get dragged with you as you decisively mark off each item on your “to-do” list. You spend the entire day in drill sergeant mode, saying, “Come on honey, we’ve got to get going…march, march, march!” All of this urging does nothing, of course, to get children moving. No matter what the age, asking children to “Hurry!” is, as some say in the South, like asking milk not to pour—it is a futile effort.
I am in the process of slowing down my life, not by my choice, but by Cancer’s choice. Cancer has become my “parent” in a way, dictating what my next few months are going to be, overturning my schedule-encompassed, productive days. The surprise has been that Cancer doesn’t say “Hurry up,” as the parent does in the poem above. Cancer steps in, fairly suddenly, always quietly, and says, “Excuse me a moment, but I have some things for you to think about. I have miracles to show you. I have stories to tell. I have secrets to whisper, visions to experience. Sit down. Put your feet up. Wait and see.”
It has been an act of complete submission on my part. When recovering from surgery, your body does not give you a choice; you must rest and let go of your hectic life. You must lie down in your bed or on your couch. Your job, laundry, vacuuming, the grocery store, errands, exercising, cooking dinner…all the things that grasp you until you feel you might be pulled apart, limb from limb, all fall away.
I have made the surprising discovery that the earth does indeed keep revolving, even if I have to stop and rest in the day. To be honest, it has been a relief. It has been an excuse to re-learn how to relish the ordinary things in my life that I’d forgotten were there. This summer, I will be receiving six weeks of radiation treatments five times a week. That means that, every day, I will have to pause and do nothing for at least fifteen minutes while the treatment is happening. I need to determine what I will think about during those minutes, because time to be still—with purpose—is a precious commodity not to be wasted.
So, instead of planning tons of summer activities for my kids, I’m going to find things we can do that are close to home. Even though they are teenagers, I want to proactively be near my kids. We are going to go on more picnics in our backyard. We are going to watch more movies on Netflix. We are going to pick our favorite board games and have a marathon. I am not going to worry if the kids and I have been productive or not; but we will, I am certain, “produce” things whose value cannot necessarily be weighed or accounted for. I am looking forward to it.