Many of you know that I used to work with Martha Stewart. During the time that I was at the company, I heard Martha recite a poem by US Poet Laureate Billy Collins on three different occasions. Each and every time, she choked up a little…and I did, too.
THE LANYARD by Billy Collins
The other day I was ricocheting slowly
off the blue walls of this room,
moving as if underwater from typewriter to piano,
from bookshelf to an envelope lying on the floor,
when I found myself in the L section of the dictionary
where my eyes fell upon the word lanyard.
No cookie nibbled by a French novelist
could send one into the past more suddenly—
a past where I sat at a workbench at a camp
by a deep Adirondack lake
learning how to braid long thin plastic strips
into a lanyard, a gift for my mother.
I had never seen anyone use a lanyard
or wear one, if that’s what you did with them,
but that did not keep me from crossing
strand over strand again and again
until I had made a boxy
red and white lanyard for my mother.
She gave me life and milk from her breasts,
and I gave her a lanyard.
She nursed me in many a sick room,
lifted spoons of medicine to my lips,
laid cold face-cloths on my forehead,
and then led me out into the airy light
and taught me to walk and swim,
and I, in turn, presented her with a lanyard.
Here are thousands of meals, she said,
and here is clothing and a good education.
And here is your lanyard, I replied,
which I made with a little help from a counselor.
Here is a breathing body and a beating heart,
strong legs, bones and teeth,
and two clear eyes to read the world, she whispered,
and here, I said, is the lanyard I made at camp.
And here, I wish to say to her now,
is a smaller gift—not the worn truth
that you can never repay your mother,
but the rueful admission that when she took
the two-tone lanyard from my hand,
I was as sure as a boy could be
that this useless, worthless thing I wove
out of boredom would be enough to make us even.
After a certain age (some of us reach this milestone later than others), it becomes overwhelmingly clear that there is no gift that we can give mom that anyway repays her for the gifts she gave us. Perhaps it is this perpetual indebtedness that begs us to keep trying and that necessitates a holiday called Mother’s Day.
I think about the crayon drawings, the popsicle stick sculptures, the ceramic handprints and the drug store perfume that I have given my mother over the years and the joy and graciousness with which she received them. I now realize that it was not the gift but the accompanying “I love you, Mom”, that held all the value.
In the comment section below, take a moment to declare to the world how important your mom has been to you and then send her the link to this page–a lanyard to connect your heart to hers.