Carpe Diem

carpediem3This essay originally appeared on my blog, Boys, Dogs and Chaos. It was published on August 28, 2011 (I wrote the poems when I was twenty-two years old). Although a lot has changed – thankfully I finished my novel about three months after this was written – a lot hasn’t, so I felt it merited a repost. Plus, it’s a good message to remember…

Carpe Diem #1

Her pale blue eyes cloud over

As she speaks of him

The other one she could have loved

A wrinkle forms between light eyebrows

As she thinks of him

It could have been

She says

Out of sync

He was in a war

She got divorced

He got married

If I had just gone to see him

She says

I love my husband,

But I loved him too

It could have been

I think hard on this

He is dark

With eyes made of light

We are out of sync

He says

We can’t be

Not now

Timing off

We can make the timing

I say

Because in twenty years

I don’t want pale eyes that cloud over

And a wrinkle on my brow

Carpe Diem #2

I used to sit underneath the big oak tree

In my backyard

Drinking sticky, sweet lemonade

Reading romance novels

I believed the heroes and heroines lived up there

Ensconced in that cool green world

I knew at fifteen

That if I just stared long enough

At that lush canopy of thick green leaves

I would find all the answers

I would just know

Now, as I sit on my deck years later

The leaves seem achingly green,

But the sky is growing darker

And the clouds hang low

The heat stirs up in a breeze

That brushes my skin

Someone once told me

He always feels closer to God

During a storm

I sit back

Close my eyes

And wait for it to rain

I went into my 4th grade son’s classroom to talk about my “writing life” a few months ago and the kids all asked me if I write poetry. They had just finished their poetry unit and would be holding a poet’s celebration the following week. I told them, “No.” I said that poetry made me a bit nervous and that I wasn’t very good at it. I truly didn’t remember ever writing poetry. And then, last night as I was moving pages and pages of writing from a cardboard box in the basement to a plastic bin, in anticipation of Hurricane Irene, I found the two poems above. I wrote both of them for a college creative writing class. Titled Carpe Diem #1 and Carpe Diem #2, I’m guessing that the assignment was to write two poems with the theme of carpe diem – seize the day.

I don’t think I wrote much poetry after that – I focused on fiction and journalism, so finding these two poems was something of a gift. I don’t know if they are even any good, but for some reason they speak to me. And even though I had forgotten writing them, as soon as I read them I remembered the emotion and experiences. I remember the woman with the star crossed lover – I believe I interviewed her for a magazine I wrote for the summer before my senior year. I do remember that she seemed quite old, yet I wrote that I didn’t want to be like her in just twenty years. Twenty two years have passed. I don’t feel old though, I feel in some ways as if I could still “seize the day.” But, in some ways – it seems as if centuries have passed, as if I will never have another carpe diem moment again.

I have been thinking about the concept of carpe diem often lately, even before finding the poems. I went to a funeral for someone way too young to die and every single person in that overflowing chapel knew that this woman lived the motto of carpe diem from the moment of her terminal illness diagnosis until her last breath. She likely lived that way before (I unfortunately did not know her as well as I would have liked to – so I can’t say for sure), but she caught the attention of everyone who crossed her path with the joyful spirit with which she embraced the days she had left. Although we had gone to high school together and lived in the same town as adults, it was really on Facebook that our friendship resided. But, based on our Facebook interactions alone, I felt we were friends. We exchanged messages and she left insightful and amusing comments on my posts. She always had a kind word to say and a mega-watt smile in every picture. I could tell from those pictures that she lived more authentically than most people in her short life.

So many of us just go through our days on autopilot – I know I do. Feed and clothe children; break up fights; run errands; wash and fold laundry; pick up toys; walk dogs and the list goes on. How many times do you stop and appreciate all that you have? How many times do you say, “Yes” to something that matters and “No” to everything else? I know for myself, the answer is rarely. There are nights that I lie in my bed and think, “What did I do today?” There are days that 10:00 pm rolls around and I couldn’t tell you one thing that I accomplished that actually meant something more than getting the laundry off the couch or keeping my kids from killing each other. I have been working on a novel for so long and I finally had an opportunity to get it into the right hands – an amazing agent, but the days spin away from me and I still have not finished it. I feel as if that opportunity has just slipped right through my fingers – I did not seize the day. At least not yet.

There are so many lessons to be learned when someone lives his or her life so fully and authentically, no matter how short. This woman made more memories for her children than most parents do in a lifetime that is not cut tragically short. The rabbi at her funeral service talked about her bucket list. She tackled that bucket list and then some. She was an inspiration to everyone around her and a lesson in how to carpe diem.

Our younger selves didn’t need a bucket list or a diagnosis or the death of a friend to know that coasting through our days is no way to live life. But, with children, work, laundry and countless obligations that’s far too often what happens. Finding these poems when the notion of seizing the day is so fresh in my mind seems to me a sign. A sign that perhaps I should remember what that energy felt like, what that sense of possibility felt like. And that it’s wise for all of us to seize the day while we can.



4 thoughts on “Carpe Diem

  1. Teena says:

    Very well put Stephanie. We all need to stop and smell the roses or like you said, “seize the day”

    Good read!! 😊👍

    Teena P

  2. Cameron Von St James says:

    Hi Stephanie! My name is Cameron Von St. James and I had a quick question for you & was wondering if you could please email me when you have a free moment. Thanks! I really hope to hear from you soon and appreciate you taking the time. ☺ cvonstjames AT gmail DOT com

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