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What a 107-year-old poet can teach you about mindfulness

mindfulness techniquesIt’s a special kind of person who can find meaning in the seemingly pointless, never-ceasing task of daily bed-making.

Peggy Freydberg does just that in the first pages of Poems from the Pond, a recently published collection of her poems, all of which she wrote between the ages of 90 and 106.

“It’s the ultimate lesson in mindfulness,” says author and producer Laurie David, who edited the book. “I now look at the task of making your bed as a gift the day is giving to you. That’s how she did. Making the bed is no longer something you do out of drudgery, it’s something you do out of celebration of waking up.” (With every crease and fluff.)

PoemsfromthePondDavid discovered Freydberg after writer-educator and NPR commentator Nancy Aronie organized a small reading of her poems on Martha’s Vineyard last year. Freydberg was 106 at the time, and when David heard her read, she decided the words needed to be shared with the world. “I knew I had to put it together really fast because my dream was to be able to hand it to her,” she says.

Seven months later Poems from the Pond was published, and while Freydberg didn’t make it to the official publication date, David did get to show her a copy of the finished pages before she passed away at 107. Since then, the book sold out a first printing almost right away (a second just hit shelves) and has been endorsed and read from by people like U.S. poet laureate Billy Collins and actress Meg Ryan.

I picked it up and read it cover to cover in days, dogearing pages as I found verse after verse that spoke to me. “We’re all struggling with these issues of loss and aging and anxiety and fear, and she addresses all these things in her poems,” David says. She does it by spotting beauty in the mundane and big truths in life’s smallest struggles in a visionary way. A poem about a lost hair comb, for instance, is also a treatise on attachment and searching for answers. And, of course, the bed-making.

Inspired to stop complaining about crumpled sheets? Read “Chorus of Cells,” here. —Lisa Elaine Held

Chorus of Cells
Excerpted from Poems from the Pond, by Peggy Freydberg

Every morning,
even being very old,
(or perhaps because of it),
I like to make my bed.
In fact, the starting of each day
is the biggest thing I ever do.
I smooth away the dreams disclosed by tangled sheets,
I smack the dented pillow’s revelations to oblivion,
I finish with the pattern of the spread exactly centered.
The night is won.
And now the day can open.

All this I like to do,
mastering the making of my bed
with hands that trust beginnings.
All this I need to do,
directed by the silent message
of the luxury of my breathing.

And every night,
I like to fold the covers back,
and get in bed,
and live the dark, wise poetry of the night’s dreaming,
dreading the extent of its improbabilities,
but surrendering to the truth it knows and I do not;
even though its technicolor cruelties,
or the music of its myths,
feels like someone else’s experience,
not mine.

I know that I could no more cease
to want to make my bed each morning,
and fold the covers back at night,
than I could cease
to want to put one foot before the other.

Being very old and so because of it,
all this I am compelled to do,
day after day,
night after night,
directed by the silent message
of the constancy of my breathing,
that bears the news I am alive.

(Photo: Eli Dagostino)