As I was cleaning out my hardrive, I came across a number of old documents that included reflections, poetry, and old articles that I downloaded. One document that popped up was the once anonymous poem called “The invitation.” It once circulated in every email box, up there with those notorious chain letters and obnoxious friendship emails with animated graphics of cutesy animals and blinking hearts. Unlike the other “Chicken Soup for the Soul” stuck in the office cubicle type emails, this one actually stuck. I must have read this poem sometime in 2000, before I went back to school. At that time, I was trying to get my life together. I was definitely in the self help mood myself, literally I was trying to pick myself up from my boostraps. So, I went and bought the book by the author of the poem, Oriah Mountain Dreamer. Often, I run across things in self help and spiritual books that make me cringe. But sometimes I just stomach the cheesiness and try to get through to the meat. So, just bear with me and read the prose poem here:
IT DOESN’T INTEREST ME WHAT YOU DO FOR A LIVING.
I want to know what you ache for, and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing. It doesn’t interest me how old you are. I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love, for your dream, for the adventure of being alive.
It doesn’t interest me what planets are squaring your moon. I want to know if you have been opened by life’s betrayals or have become shriveled and closed from fear of further pain. I want to know if you can sit with pain, mine our your own, without moving to hide it or fade it or fix it.
I want to know if you can be with joy, mine or your own, if you can dance with wildness and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your fingers and toes without cautioning us to be careful, to be realistic, to remember the limitations of being human.
It doesn’t interest me if the story you are telling me is true. I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself; if you can bear the accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul; if you can be faithless and therefore trustworthy.
I want to know if you can see beauty, even when it’s not pretty, every day, and if you can source your own life from its presence.
I want to know if you can live with failure, yours and mine, and still stand on the edge of the lake and shout to the silver of the full moon, “Yes!”
It doesn’t interest me to know where you live or how much money you have. I want to know if you can get up, after the night of grief and despair, weary and bruised to the bone, and do what needs to be done to feed the children.
It doesn’t interest me who you know or how you came to be here. I want to know if you will stand in the center of the fire with me and not shrink back.
It doesn’t interest me where or what or with whom you have studied. I want to know what sustains you, from the inside, when all else falls away.
I want to know if you can be alone with yourself and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments.
Okay, shouting at “silver of the full moon” and dancing wildly in ecstasy (probably meaning without rhythm) is a little corney for even me (and I can be a sap at times). And I’m not quite sure about the faithless part, that really doesn’t fit within my paradigm or world view as a believer. But, this poem clogged people’s email boxes and sucked up bandwidth for a reason. There is some truth in it that people need to be reminded of. Personally, I really liked the poem because it emphasizes authenticity and a genuine longing for real people and real friendships. Some Muslims have talked a lot about authenticity, as in authentic Muslim culture and institutions versus Western systems of thought and westernized institutions . Authenticity even has a philosophical meaning (which I won’t go into here). Despite self centered new agey forms of spirituality and self-actualization that tries to pass itself off as authenticity, I still think that authenticity is important. However my version of it bears little in common with existentialist writers like Sartre and Camus. I am concerned with the human experience and a real interactions. I get turned off when a conversation or interaction shifts from an exchange to an ego driven competition or show. I don’t have a problem with people’s egos. I am happy to share with others their triumphs and successes. I really want to know who they are. But insecurities, resentments, preconceived notions and unsubstantiated assumptions, and false posturing that gets on my nerves. It is so easy to fall into these traps when meeing others or even in day to day exchanges with people we know. This poem reminds me that the importance of being around people who are striving to be complete and whole. That, in itself, will improve your quality of life.
The other beautiful thing about the poem is that it emphasizes the full range of human experience–pain pleasure, fear, hope, and joy for life. Our true friends should be able to stand with us when we are in pain and hurting. Or at least, they won’t be fickle and tell us that we should always think positive thoughts even though we may be going through our our personal hell. I also like the fact that the poem recognizes that in order to be true to our purpose, we may have to do things that go against other people’s wishes. Pleasing everyone (an impossibility btw) will only stymie our efforts to become whole. The other aspect of the poem that I liked is that many of these qualities are things we should look for friends and life partners. Many of these qualities I aspire for myself, and I hope to be around others who inspire me in the same ways. Anyways, I thought I’d share the poem and the reasons why I liked it. It helped me realize some things at that crucial moment when I had to make some tough decisions and choose what my lifepath. I think this poem is very timely, as I think about living my life authenticly as a Muslim and human being.