the sometimes confusing but worthy exercise of self-reflection

The photo albums lay stacked on the floor–a tall pile of brown leather between couch and wall, an impossible and inconvenient location over which somebody in the house was going to trip any moment.

This pile had my daughter’s name written all over it. 

I was about to ask her to put them back on the shelf when I decided to look at them first. This particular pile of albums commemorates family adventures backpacking in national parks, including Yellowstone, Yosemite, Glacier, Zion, Grand Tetons, Wrangell-St. Elias, and Kenai Fjords, beginning when our youngest was four–and I poured over them, marveling at the kids’ small sizes and dirty but smiling faces. 

I remember the feeling of most of these places–the challenges both physical and emotional: Will we get to the campsite before dark? Will we have enough water? How far can we ration the skittles (aka “power pills”) to motivate them one-half hour more? The packing in was always hard. Heavy loads. Long hikes. But lots of stories and singing and pondering the beauty all around.

Looking at myself in the photos always confuses me. I wonder who she is, how she did what she did. She looks happy in the photos–always smiling or doing something that looks like a lot of fun (holding a little girl’s hand, jumping off rocks into an icy lake, walking through paths of wildflowers, climbing narrow paths to mountaintops). It is easy to romanticize everything I see, especially since the photos in the album are the happy memories, the joy-filled moments, the unique and fleeting adventures I hope to never take for granted again.

Our hearts ache a bit, don’t they, when we look at photos of ourselves, or of people we love? Happy or sad memories. Moments we wish we could live again, even if for just a few minutes. Or moments we wish never happened at all.

One of the traps I fall into is assuming that the past is always better than the present. Or, conversely, that the next day is always going to be better than the one before. The present always feels like a bit of a mess–and it is. I just forget that the mess is actually okay. After all, I am here, in this moment, because the past and the future were/will be beautiful messes too.

Let me attempt to describe it this way:

It will break you
wide open
the beginning of things
made new

the birds lifting their voices
in your backyard
like they do in Austria
and Mexico and Africa.

All the beginnings
starting over every morning:
so wildly beautiful

this oration,
this second chance.


For the Loop Poetry Project this week, consider what happens within you (what thoughts or emotions rise) upon self-reflection. Do you enjoy returning to memories? Which ones? Which ones do you not enjoy reflecting upon? Which ones cause a deep disturbance in your soul?

Write a poem that is born from deeper thinking about yourself–who you feel you are now and who you believe you once were. Or, write a poem that reveals deeper reflection on a simple observation: take an observation and explore it more deeply. What is going on below the surface of your feelings and your thoughts?

You have a lot to feel. You have a lot to say. We can’t wait to read what that is.

Please share your poem below, in the comments, or share it on social media using the hashtag #looppoetryproject. You might also want to join the private Facebook group for women who want to pursue wholeness through writing poetry together. It would be wonderful to connect with you there.

Excited to hear from you,

Jennifer

This post appeared originally at jenniferjcamp.com

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