The Heart of a Woman
by Gloria Douglas Johnson*
The heart of a woman goes forth with the dawn,
As a lone bird, soft winging, so restlessly on,
Afar o’er life’s turrets and vales does it roam
In the wake of those echoes the heart calls home...
I love novels; the depth and length that allows me to reside, for a while, in a world far away; the pace that I often feverishly rush, the tone that can fill me with heartache, pity or hatred. I can linger in a novel. There, I am gently led to the truths in my heart and then given a soft place to sit and ponder. Revisited, it will show me new surprises, hidden alleys, secret gardens.
But poetry is different. It doesn’t allow me to hide within. No lush summer vegetation that produces crates full of nouns and verbs; lexicon bushes, etymological trees. Instead I find a stark copse of winter Aspens, each chosen carefully to cut and sting. Poetry doesn’t meander. There is no sight-seeing along her paths; instead I am led quickly to my own reflection. There she says, “look, see what’s inside.” I stumble, and the seat she offers for respite is often only one or two words, carefully placed to hold me up. “There, you feel better now,” she says. And she’s right. I can walk back along that short path now, marveling at the sparse garden that grows in the shelter of those trees, each plant carefully chosen. When I gratefully reach my familiar course, I look back in wonder, still captivated. How did she do that?
I named my blog with three such carefully chosen words. They are not mine; I am not a poet. They were brought to me by Gloria Douglas Johnson. When I first read The Heart of a Woman, its reflective quality did make me stumble. And every time I reread Gloria’s seventy-five carefully-chosen words, I see more of myself and I marvel. How did she do that?
I am not unique; I am a woman like any other living in the early twenty-first century. My day is generally dictated by need. It’s a series of chores, appointments and duties. My meals and prayers are quickly accomplished. Showers even more so. I drive to the grocery store, to the school, to the library or church building. I grab a cup of coffee, drop off a package, pay a visit, pay a bill. There are piano lessons, swimming lessons, math homework to correct, a science project to construct. There are therapies and doctors, worries and sleepless nights.
But Gloria reminds me that, as I go through each day, my heart often leaves, taking its own journey. It flies above, searching and finding things I cannot; traveling to places I’ll never see, accomplishing tasks my busy life keeps me from. My heart is not too poor to build a well in Africa, it is not too merciless to sit by a starving child in India. My heart bleeds with soldiers in Arabian deserts and swells with pride as a Pakistani girl takes her first step through a schoolhouse doorway. The pleasures of my heart are not always grand, nor altruistic. It builds mansions, playhouses, tree houses. It sees concerts, musicals, plays. It sews and makes quilts, it reads every book. It finally learns to knit. It cooks, but doesn’t clean, it shops but doesn’t spend. It offers comfort but never hurts another soul.
But when my heart returns, is it refreshed? Has travel appeased its restlessness?
Maybe sometimes. But humankind is a discontented lot – God shows us this in His holy word again and again. Often I have to fight my heart back into its cage. It’s been summering in Greece, after all, while winter plods along here in Idaho. And sometimes, when my heart has flown all the way to the stars, trying to gather a few in her beak to drag back home, it does break. Some of those stars I desperately want: to have this need to write be validated professionally, the repentance of certain loved ones who are on thorny paths of their own choosing. Healing for my son.
A heart so occupied in fantasy might never choose to return. So why does it? Because even while a long way off, it remembers something more important than all the dreams, imagination and “surreality” it has flown toward.
Home; where God has placed me, where my feet are on the ground, where my family loves me, where I don’t have to just imagine doing good. And sometimes when I’m back in the real world, the thought strikes me: what good, then, is all my restless mental wandering? I can only live one life and God admonishes me toward contentment and simplicity.
And yet, that Wake of Echoes is still there, even while my heart is still in flight and I’m wrestling it to the ground.
Is it to be ignored? Shelved? Tamped down in my heart? No. God has set eternity in the heart of man; and woman too. And while I’m here, doing what little good I can in my gentle sphere, God’s love is like that bird, reaching far: comforting, building, smiling, loving. And when my heart soars to places unseen, it’s a gift from God, allowing me participation, making me a better person here and now. I am gently reminded of the contradictions in life; in the beauty of irony. I can live here and be content, but I can still reach for those stars.
My Wake of Echoes, here on these pages, will reflect both versions of me – the one who has her feet on the ground and the one who is flying through the sky.
*Gloria Douglas Johnson was an American poet most noted for this poem, published in 1918. She was part of a group referred to as the Harlem Renaissance, a cultural movement that promoted the works of many skilled Black writers.