Curations: The Lanyard
This past Sunday I preached about gratitude, and this poem by poet laureate Billy Collins almost made it into the sermon. (If you want to hear the sermon, check it out on our Facebook page or on our YouTube channel.) It's one of my favorite poems, mainly for the witty but beautiful way children show their gratitude, even for what they can never repay.
It is, for me, a reminder of the innumerable and incomprehensible gifts of God, who - like a mother - has given us life, nurtured and provided for us, healed and sustained us. And a reminder that we can never be "even" for these gifts of grace, no matter how we try to express our gratitude. And a reminder that we should never stop trying to express that gratitude, either...even if all we can offer is a lanyard.
"The Lanyard" by Billy Collins
The other day I was ricocheting slowly
off the blue walls of this room,
moving as if underwater from typewriter to piano,
from bookshelf to an envelope lying on the floor,
when I found myself in the L section of the dictionary
where my eyes fell upon the word lanyard.
No cookie nibbled by a French novelist
could send one into the past more suddenly—
a past where I sat at a workbench at a camp
by a deep Adirondack lake
learning how to braid long thin plastic strips
into a lanyard, a gift for my mother.
I had never seen anyone use a lanyard
or wear one, if that’s what you did with them,
but that did not keep me from crossing
strand over strand again and again
until I had made a boxy
red and white lanyard for my mother.
She gave me life and milk from her breasts,
and I gave her a lanyard.
She nursed me in many a sick room,
lifted spoons of medicine to my lips,
laid cold face-cloths on my forehead,
and then led me out into the airy light
and taught me to walk and swim,
and I, in turn, presented her with a lanyard.
Here are thousands of meals, she said,
and here is clothing and a good education.
And here is your lanyard, I replied,
which I made with a little help from a counselor.
Here is a breathing body and a beating heart,
strong legs, bones and teeth,
and two clear eyes to read the world, she whispered,
and here, I said, is the lanyard I made at camp.
And here, I wish to say to her now,
is a smaller gift—not the worn truth
that you can never repay your mother,
but the rueful admission that when she took
the two-tone lanyard from my hand,
I was as sure as a boy could be
that this useless, worthless thing I wove
out of boredom would be enough to make us even.
“The Lanyard” from The Trouble With Poetry: and Other Poems by Billy Collins (2005)