The Art of Disappearing
When they say Don’t I know you?
When they invite you to the party
remember what parties are like
Someone telling you in a loud voice
they once wrote a poem.
Greasy sausage balls on a paper plate.
If they say We should get together
It’s not that you don’t love them anymore.
You’re trying to remember something
too important to forget.
Trees. The monastery bell at twilight.
Tell them you have a new project.
It will never be finished.
When someone recognizes you in a grocery store
nod briefly and become a cabbage.
When someone you haven’t seen in ten years
appears at the door,
don’t start singing him all your new songs.
You will never catch up.
Walk around feeling like a leaf.
Know you could tumble any second.
Then decide what to do with your time.
It has now been eighteen months since I retired from church leadership, and when I began that new chapter of my life I was not sure what to expect. I was surprised by experiencing an insistent pull toward quietude. I was surprised by how comfortable it felt to be “disappearing,” from a very public role as a minister.
This morning, I stumbled upon this poem by Naomi Shihab Nye. Perhaps it jumped out at me because I had the privilege yesterday of attending a beautiful ordination ceremony for someone who is entering the start of their ministry. Perhaps because, at that ceremony, I had a chance to see briefly many people who were in my former church community. I still feel such tenderness and love for them.
But I don’t have regrets about the decision to retire. As Nye says so well, “It’s not that you don’t love them anymore. You’re trying to remember something too important to forget.” Sometimes I am baffled by this time and by how to decide what to do in it. This poem speaks to that bafflement.
From Words Under the Words: Selected Poems by Naomi Shihab Nye, published by Far Corner Books, 1995.