FEATURE — It’s 9 a.m. Friday morning and I have no idea who David Whyte is or why he’s coming to Utah. Nor do I care.
Ten hours later, I’m rushing off pink-faced, clutching a yellow legal pad to my chest with my favorite blue pen fisted in my right hand to sit in the audience for this very same man.
What happened in those intervening hours? I learned Whyte is important to someone I care about and so he became important to me.
It mattered less at the time that he also happens to be an evocative poet (although I am a sucker for poets) and a powerful public speaker (he got a TED Talk standing ovation).
With my legal pad now balancing on my knees, I settled into my auditorium seat excitedly chatting with the companion who had inspired me to come. As the lights started to dim, the woman seated to my right tapped me gently on the shoulder.
I turned to her with a smile. She was grey and slight. “Are you going to take notes tonight,” she inquired. “Yes,” I answered eagerly.
“Well, I hope you don’t ruin my night,” she replied. “The last time I came to one of these things, the girl next to me scribbled furiously the whole time and I hated it.”
I’d been ready to offer her some of my paper or even to share my notes with her after. But I hadn’t been ready for that.
I fought all of my natural pleaser tendencies not to immediately shove my pad of paper into my black zippered bag at my feet and apologize. For pre-offending her.
But I didn’t. Instead, I simply nodded and turned my body back to the stage.
In walked Whyte. Over the next 95 minutes, he recited lengthy stanzas of his poetry from memory, shared their origin stories – and his – and counseled about things like the power of vulnerability.
And, like a schoolgirl, I took notes. I noted the titles of the poems that struck me. I noted words that surprised me. I noted of shards of wisdom I didn’t want to forget when the house lights swelled again. And I eventually forgot about the woman seated at my right.
Towards the end of the evening, Whyte spoke of a gathering of friends from the United Kingdom at his home in the Pacific Northwest.
One member of the group was a former Jade monk, now an old man, who in his youth was sent out to travel the world with only his happy disposition. He’d settled in the U.K. and flourished, eventually raising a beautiful family and establishing two highly acclaimed schools.
Another member of the group was a woman who had suffered many disappointments in her life. She wore them – and the expectation of countless more to come – in her countenance.
When the former Jade monk arrived, David’s seven-year-old daughter ran out to greet him on the gravel drive. He immediately dropped on his haunches and they embraced at eye-level. It was the first time they’d ever met.
When the woman of disappointment arrived some time later, David’s daughter retreated at the threshold behind her father and stood frozen, statue-like behind him. So much so, the woman was likely unaware of the little girl’s presence.
Later, when the entire group had arrived, David retreated into the entertaining space where a large hearth gathered his guests like a mother hen. On one end, the Jade monk sat. On the other end – the woman of disappointment.
The Highwomen, the country music supergroup, sing of wanting a crowded table and a place by the fire for everyone. But they know they can’t just want those things. They have to work for them.
So, they conclude, “if we want a garden / we’re gonna have to sow the seed / plant a little happiness/ let the roots run deep.”
Whyte, in turn, left the audience in the auditorium with an important question: what invitation are each of you making?
When the lights rose, his question still lingered. And so did my anti-note-taking neighbor. But I only had eyes for the Jade monk.
Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.