May Your Life Be Shaped

The best advice I’ve ever received came to me in the form of a wish. When I graduated from high school, I received a card from my great-great-aunt Helen. Arriving from my mother’s father’s sister, whom I’d forgotten meeting when I was a toddler, the card made me feel connected to a family out there somewhere, as if a larger world wished me well. I’d grown up moving, having been in more than twenty schools by the time I graduated from high school, and the experience had left me with a profound sense of isolated difference.

Inside the card’s embossed exterior, my great-great-aunt had written not the usual sort of advice that attends graduation cards, but only a sentence: “May your life be shaped by what you love.” The phrase struck me, and stuck, somewhere within me, resonating. Like a small lodestone, falling from the sky, that lodges in the earth and generates a magnetic field, and is taken to float on water, turning toward true north, the phrase became not only a wish but a direction.

My life has been profoundly altered by that wish; my work, my sense of myself, and even my body have been shaped, altered, by what I love, and sometimes unpredictably. The wish itself set me in a direction that was often against the tide, for our culture values the life shaped by the mind’s architect, ambition, considerations of means and ends, rewards and long-term plans. Yet what true resemblances there are between my interior and exterior realities are the fruit of that wish. It is only the failures of love that I regret, those times when I did not give myself so generously.

–poet Rebecca Seiferle

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