November 5, 2011

A week ago I received an award. This is what I wrote to try to share the special flavor of that evening:

At my table at the awards banquet, I’m surrounded by friends and family, and we relax in the light of the white floating candle on our table. The conversation is gentle, easy, quietly celebratory.

When my name is called, I step up onto the stage to receive the Eugene and Marilyn Glick Indiana Authors Award, one of three that will be given on this elegant evening. I look out at the banquet hall, holding in my hand a small paper with my notes of people to thank, a few remarks on what this means to me, maybe a small joke.

But the podium is dark. I can’t read my notes, and I am dazzled, as the lights of all the candles shine up at me from the round white tables in this room which is not usually a banquet hall, it is a library–the old, beautifully modernized, Central Indianapolis Library. The moment has such deep presence: the presence of these three hundred people who have come together out of a shared love of books, who write books and read them and care deeply about them. And there’s the surrounding presence of the books on the library shelves, and all the people who have written and read them, all the librarians who have helped make connections between writers and readers.

I am surprised to discover that I am completely at ease among all these friends, known and unknown. I have no anxiety about saying the wrong thing, or forgetting to say the right thing. I find words to accept the recognition this award represents, and my words are in turn accepted: I belong in this world. And I am aware that this feeling, unusual though it may be, fully belongs to each of us, in every moment.

Later, as if in confirmation of this glimpse of truth, a young woman approaches me and asks me to sign one of my children’s books. She tells me that she was on the selection committee for this award, and that she’s from Winamac, a small rural town that I remember from a long-ago poets-in-the-schools residency. Might this woman, I wonder, have been a teacher or a librarian and have met me at that time?

No, she tells me, “I was in elementary school, and you came to my classroom. I have a signed copy of your first book of poetry.”

So many circles and spirals. Such deep and ongoing connection.