Monday, September 2, 2013


In the last six months I have gathered with family, friends, church members, and professional colleagues to celebrate life events...and death.

In that space of  time, I have been attended several celebrations or events that have each required formal presentations, speeches or other word-making.

1 Wedding
My best friend's son's wedding at which, not only the best man and maid of honor toasted the happy couple, but also several friends and family members

2 Wedding Receptions
The above couple's formal dinner with dancing  until the wee hours of the morning, as well as a lovely informal open house for a newlywed teacher consultant in our writing project.

1 65th Wedding Anniversary Dinner
My parents' celebration-- a surprise for my mom orchestrated by my dad where, at the request of my father, I was the toastmaster, the work-maker-- the one with the words that would allow us to drink our champagne.  Read my word-gift for my parents here.

1 60th Birthday Dinner
My own-- celebrated along  with other May birthdays, including my friend whose birthday (not 60 for her) was the same day, and my husband whose birthday is eight days before mine.No formal words were spoken. Pandora jewelry did the talking.

1 Closing Circle of the Columbus Area Writing Project Summer Insitute
Our traditional CAWP Circle  of sharing was led by fellow co-director Kevin Cordi. Words from each member expressed where they taken us, where we had taken them in our writing -- and where they planned on going next in their writing and their learning.

2 Doctoral Completion Parties
Celebrations for friends of whom I am very proud, and at each words were offered that praised the accomplishments and remembered the journey.

3 Funerals
My best friend's brother, a friend's mother, and a fellow church member--two which were liturgically dignified and relatively short-- and one which was extremely long, with too many words offered.

At each of these events, someone (or several someones) rose to deliver words of praise and pride, encouragement and elation,  farewells and fresh starts, or blessing and benediction.

At each of these gatherings, those of us present witnessed the emotions of life evolving or beginning anew, the elation and sorrow, the joy and loss, as life's seasons encircled us--as life does what life does.  

In addition, to attending my own circle of celebrations, during a space of time just slightly longer than that named above, there have been numerous national  occasions which called for celebratory words and rite-worthy words.

These include the presidential inauguration, which we have begun to mark with poetry written especially and specifically for that occasion.

In January 2013, we were introduced to inauguration poet Richard Blanco and his magnificent words. As the first Hispanic, first gay male, and the youngest person to join the select group of inaugural poets, and one of my new favorite poets,  he used words to create an unmatched word-gift  that was uniquely his to offer to our nation that day.  

His poem, One Today, could have only been written by him. His unique view of our world is the container lining through which he reflected on this event, wrote his poem, and presented his work to us.  His joined the ranks of other inaugural poets, including Robert Frost Maya Angelou, Miller Williams, and Elizabeth Alexander who have commemorated the day with words.

As no other person could, Martin Luther King Jr. forever marked the first March on Washington with his now famous I Have a Dream speech.  His call for jobs, freedom, peace, and racial harmony still rings today in the ears of our consciences. Listen and remember to Martin deliver his speech  here.  See related my post, I Have a Dream Today

Likewise, President Obama, along with numerous other work-makers, memorialized the 50th anniversary of this same famous March on Washington with a speech of his own, calling us to complete King's dream, right the wrongs, and be a better nation. Listen and reflect on President Obama's speech here.

What do we say and do when we are the one in charge of the celebration?

A little girl in the Arizona desert considers this question in I'm in Charge of Celebrations by Byrd Baylor and Peter Parnall, as she creates her own days to celebrate life and nature.  She celebrates Coyote Day, Dust Devil Day and The Time of the Falling Stars--all of her own making.

How does she decide which events, days, and features are worth celebrations? She keeps a notebook in which to record that which she wants to remember and honor.

You can tell
what's worth
a celebration
your heart will
you'll feel
like you're standing
on top of a  mountain
and you'll
catch your breath
like you were
some new kind of air.

What words do we create as a word-gifts for the one being  honored or remembered?

In Sweet, Sweet Memory by Jacqueline Woodson and Floyd Cooper, a young girl faces this question.

What will she say to remember her grandfather?.  What words will represent the man he was and her love for him?  Everyone else is sharing stories and anecdotes. Everyone is quoting him and remembering his words. She needs words to say and share, as well.

In the end she recalls the words he often spoke to her:
Everything and everyone goes on and on.

Grandfather had instilled in her the understanding that nothing dies, but that a part of everything continues to grow and live. Grandfather's words help us to remember and celebrate the continuity of life.

How do we mark the celebration or special event  with words?

Maya Angelou has been present and offered words as gifts and commemoration at various and countless events. In addition to her inaugural poem, she has offered her incomparable talent for wordsmithing to honor the 50th  anniversary of the United Nations, the Lighting of the National Christmas Tree at the White House, and Mothers. Many of her word gifts offered at formal events such as these, as well as events for family and friends are collected in Celebrations: Rituals of Peace and Prayer. Here, we can reread and remember her powerful words offered as Clinton was inaugurated--On the Pulse of the Morning.

What do we say to remember and  honor, to praise and commemorate, to celebrate and memorialize the events and people that matter in our lives ?

What words do we bring as gifts on the occasions that call for celebration?

Today's Deeper Writing Possibilities

Remember events in which you have participated that commemorated or memorialized something or someone.

What words were spoken? by whom?
How were the words received and what did they accomplish?

When have you been the person offering a word-gift?

Write words for a special occasion or event.
You may write a speech or poem or a story to tell for that special day.

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