Everyday is a new beginning; this sounds like a Hallmark card slogan. However, waking up is a chance to think, “What do I give myself to today?” What is important for me to be and do today? Each day, we begin again. In fact, if we stray from our intended path, we can begin again even during the day.
Hayden Carruth (1921-2008) was a renowned and accomplished poet, whom the contemporary poet Wendell Berry greatly admired. After writing for over sixty years, Hayden Carruth was elderly, when Wendell Berry wrote this poem for him. It speaks of beginning again, like each time you sit down to write a poem, no matter how many poems you have written in the past. Wendell Berry lived in Port Royal at that time. Hayden Carruth’s home was in Munnsville.
To Hayden Carruth
by Wendell Berry
Dear Hayden, when I read your book I was aching
in head, back, heart, and mind, and aching
with your aches added to my own, and yet for joy
I read on without stopping, made eager
by your true mastery, wit, sorrow, and joy,
each made true by the others. My reading done,
I swear I am feeling better. Here in Port Royal
I take off my hat to you up there in Munnsville
in your great dignity of being necessary. I swear
it appears to me you’re one of the rare fellows
who may finally amount to something. What shall
I say? I greet you at the beginning of a great career?
No. I greet you at the beginning, for we are
either beginning or we are dead. And let us have
no careers, lest one day we be found dead in them.
I greet you at the beginning that you have made
authentically in your art, again and again.
(“To Hayden Carruth” by Wendell Berry from New Collected Poems. © Counterpoint Press, 2012.)
“We are either beginning or we are dead,” writes Wendell Berry. He recognizes that we are always beginning again. Each time I write something, I begin again. Each time I paddle outrigger canoes, I begin refining my stroke again while focusing on one or two improvements in technique. Each time I pray or worship, I listen for the Light to speak to me anew in that moment. Accepting that I am a beginner helps me to adopt an open mind and humble spirit. I am not an expert; I am a perpetual student. Zen Buddhists call this “beginner’s mind.”
Beginning again frees us from heavy expectations of great accomplishments or perfection. The pressure of trying to be better than we truly are is gone. We do not have to look good or perform well for others. We can simply be authentic.
At the age of forty-two, I began to learn how to play the ukulele in a weekly group, which met in a San Francisco café. The Hawaiian leader taught us to play chords as we sang Hawaiian songs. I loved it. When I was called upon to lead a reflection at a business meeting, I shared a Hawaiian song, playing my ukulele and singing. I was a rank beginner at the time. I did not choose to perform in front of colleagues because I was any good as an ukulele player or singer. It was about sharing my aloha. Decades later, I have learned over a hundred Hawaiian songs. I can pick notes and strum chords. My Hawaiian pronunciation has improved. However, each time I sit down to play, I begin again.
May you begin again and again in your precious and authentic life.
May you be free to be exactly who you are, where you are in this life.
May you do whatever is calling you forward with a beginner’s mind.