Sunday, April 25, 2010

Poetry Friday on a Sunday: "Letter to a Young Activist"

...because it seems that someone, somehow, keeps stealing all the hours out of my Fridays (and Saturdays, too, for that matter)!

Last week, while in Milwaukee to meet with the oh-so-warm-and-welcoming writers of SCBWI-Wisconsin, I got to spend a few hours roaming the campus of my alma mater, Marquette University. I'm a bit sappy and reflective by nature, so it should probably have been no surprise to me how much a visit like that would get under my skin, and sure enough, it did, leaving me profoundly grateful for my four years there. In a sense, Marquette marks for me the place and time where I first truly woke up to the world, just as I'm sure so many other MU alumni would say. It's where I first encountered all the rich possibility that comes from being human, and also the responsibility that comes from an awareness of one's humanity. It's where I learned that to be fully alive, one must be both firmly rooted in what one holds true and yet also open and engaged with the world, allowing and expecting growth to happen in unexpected ways and and shapes and places.

A decade after my graduation, I'm proud of my University--proud of its Jesuit mission, and that it continues to develop students who see the importance of living as "men and women for others." I'm proud of its focus on social justice and its activist spirit, and of the faith at its core, and that walking around campus last week made it clear to me that it's full of the same passionate vibrance and energy and awareness of and commitment to the world around it that I remember being constantly inspired by. I'm proud of the fact that it continues to attract smart, determined young people from all over the world who are determined to "Be the Difference." I'm proud of the ways it's committed to maintaining on-going links to, and conversation with, its family of alumni. And I'm proud that I can see almost an infinite number of connections between the person I am today and the education--intellectual, personal, spiritual--that I received at Marquette.

But! Poetry Friday, right? (I promise I'm getting there!) One of the first things I received as a freshman at Marquette--it was in my dorm room when I arrived, as in every other freshman's--was a gift, on behalf of our University Ministry office: a small book filled with reflections, prayers, quotes, and writings. One of them struck me deeply the very first time I read it, and in fact, it's been a guiding philosophy of my life ever since. It's not quite a poem, but to me, at least, it stirs the soul and provokes a certain sense of truth in the same way that a good poem does. And it's meant something entirely different yet equally important in each stage of my life thus far: as student, as youth minister, as children's book marketer, and now, as children's book editor. And if you read it with a writer's eyes, I expect it has something to say to writers, too.

Letter to a Young Activist
by Thomas Merton

Do not depend on the hope of results. When you are doing the sort of work you have taken on may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself. And there, too, a great deal has to be gone through, as gradually you struggle less and less for an idea and more and more for specific people. The range tends to narrow down, but it gets much more real. In the end, it is the reality of personal relationships that saves everything....

(If so inclined, you can read the full letter here.)


  1. you had me at "the hope of results" - thanks for sharing this - it touched me. :)

  2. The truth at the letter's core is indeed very profound..."the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself...the reality of personal relationships..." Though I have never been able to word it so eloquently, when I read this, I felt that "click" of realization that this is why I am a writer.
    And I am very inspired by your own commitment to your faith, mission, and personal growth.
    Thank you!