I am getting old, and my feet hurt. This is a big problem because I like to run. So I was very cranky the other day when I was taking off my Asics and putting on my swim cap. As I hit the pool wall over and over again, the rhythm brought forth a sonnet I memorized as a child:
Since brass, nor stone, nor Earth, nor boundless sea
But sad mortality o’ersways their power
How with this rage shall beauty hold a plea
Whose action is no stronger than a flower?
Oh, how shall summer’s honey breath hold out
Against the wrackful siege of batt’ring days
When rocks impregnable are not so stout,
Nor gates of steel so strong but time decays?
O fearful meditation! Where, alack,
Shall time’s best jewel from time’s chest lie hid?
Or what strong hand can hold his swift foot back?
Or who his spoil of beauty shall forbid?
O none, unless this miracle have might,
That in black ink my love may still shine bright.
Funny that Shakespeare inserted himself to drive home the fact of disintegration I was trying to work around. Maybe it’s because I just started working for Creative Arts Team this month, and my drama neurons are being reawakened. But why do I even have that poem in my memory banks in the first place?
My mom is a Shakespeare enthusiast, a cosmopolitan culture fiend, and generally a force to be reckoned with. She carted all five of us to the Metropolitan Museum of Art on a regular basis; she stuck Post-Its in French on kitchen table items (sucrier, pomme, saler); and she instituted an annual tradition of celebrating Shakespeare’s birthday. On April 23, we would at the least memorize sonnets or soliloquies; at the most we’d produce full-on performances with one sibling playing her newest viola piece, another baking a cake, and another staging a skit using the dining room louvered doors as a “curtain” and the young ones as “actors.” (As the smallest, I usually got to do the sound effects.)
Having art and culture at the center of my childhood gave me a broad life perspective. Making various kinds of art made me feel able to do things. And living with art constantly proves to me the value of seemingly ephemeral things – poetry, music, drama; emotions, morals, spirit. In the pool, my inner resources bubbled up to comfort me with beauty and resonance, and to ask: If 450-year-old Will can swim with you, is it really so tragic that you can’t run today? Are there other things you thought were not possible that in fact are?
My feet might forsake me but I still have Will – as an integral part of me. My mother gave me a tremendous gift that feeds me no matter how much I earn, or how long my to-do list is, or what else is happening in my life.
I am thrilled to be part of a team that brings these questions and gifts to thousands of children and adults each year. And I’m looking forward to stocking up on new resources this work will undoubtedly bring to me, too.
Editor’s note: We are very happy to welcome Chris to the team – her love for the Bard will come in handy during our annual NYC Student Shakespeare Festival!
The title of this post comes from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night: “If music be the food of love, play on!”