It happened again. I went for a walk, and serendipity struck.
A few days ago, I re-read an essay I’d drafted seven years ago. After saving one paragraph to develop, I nixed the rest and put the discarded pages onto my recycling pile.
The rejected pages described a time when I felt lost and dissatisfied with myself. I’d go out for a jog, and on three occasions, I came across a poetry pole in the corner of someone’s yard. I didn’t follow a regular route when I jogged. I preferred to wander, but each time I happened by this house, the stories on display resolved my problem and lifted my spirits.
The first story described farming bamboo and the many years of tending it takes before a bamboo sprout appears. The story ended with the maxim: “You can’t reap what you sow in the same day.” The simple message gave me a rush of oxygen and relief. Without noticing it, I’d been striving to succeed at a dozen different things all at once, everything from teaching and management to writing and gardening, applying a perfectionist’s severity to all of it. The bamboo story put my life back into perspective.
This was before I had a smart phone, so I called my office and left myself a voice mail message reading the story on the pole. I listened to it numerous times that week.
A couple of weeks later, while berating myself for my slow jog because I thought I *should* be able to run faster and further than this. I came across: “No matter the circumstances, always be willing to begin again.” The saying transformed my leaden jog into the baby steps of a fresh start.
The final time I came across the pole, the saying read: “When it comes to success, extraordinary perseverance wins over talent. Keep watering the bamboo.” Which is eerily similar to the Big Profound Message I wrote about last week. At this time, however, I don’t think I knew what my “bamboo” was–teaching? Writing? Yoga? Food studies? Any number of things I was trying to do all at once.
Then seven years pass. Although I continued jogging around the neighborhood, I mapped out a route and stuck with it. While walking or biking, to my recollection, I never wound up coming across that poetry pole again.
And then yesterday happened.
I went out for a walk, wandering in whatever direction shady trees or fetching front yards called me, and there it was. Marveling that I’d forgotten all about this poetry pole until re-reading my old essay, I crossed the street to read the story then continued down the sidewalk toward a tall, lean man playing basketball in the street with an equally tall, lean little girl.
The basketball hoop sat between two houses, but close enough to the house with the poetry pole that I felt inspired to ask the man, “Is that your poetry pole?” gesturing back to the corner of his front yard.
“Yes,” the man said, and came over to talk.
I told him about walking by years ago and how helpful the sayings had been to me. When I told him I’d call my office and read the messages to myself in a voice mail, he said, “Oh, I’ve got to give you something,” and jogged off to his garage.
He returned with a book, which I thought might be where he got the collection of sayings he posts until he opened up the book to the title page, asked my name, and poised his pen to write.
What?!?!? I thought, and then asked bluntly, “You write all of those sayings? You come up with them yourself?”
Turns out, the writer of the stories and the owner of the house is Greg Bell, a dad playing ball with his daughter who also founded a leadership center to teach his concepts about watering bamboo. In a TED Talk, he describes the importance of staying with something over the long term, giving it at least a few minutes every day. He uses the details about farming bamboo as a metaphor for patience and determination that pay off in the long term. His approach can be applied to writing, art, family, or career.
Talking with him on the sidewalk, however, he said only that he “gives talks” now and then and waved it off, instead telling me about his grandfather, the inspiration for his approach to life.
I thanked him and continued on my walk, when about two blocks later I laughed out loud. Turns out, this poetry pole of wisdom that felt was my own personal oasis in a vast desert, resides about five blocks from my house. I swear I missed it completely for seven years and then bumped into it again just when I needed it. Maybe the pole only reveals itself to you when you’re receptive to what it has to say.
Meeting Greg affirmed everything I realized in my last post: writing matters, words have an impact, stories are important, writing daily is key. Whatever it is you do: stick with it stick with it stick with it stick with it, or, as Greg would say: keep watering the bamboo.