Let Go and Let Be

Wednesday, February 1, 2017 - 5:30 am

Let Go and Let Be

When I was in my twenties, I wanted desperately to become a writer. But for several miserable years, I labored under the misconception that this meant putting words on paper that would (1) get published and (2) be praised by the critics as great or better than great.

I’m sure you know what came of that! I wrote very little, and nothing worth reading. My inflated notion of what it meant to be a writer left me frozen in fear of failure.

Then I read some words that changed my life:

“A writer is distinguished by the fact that he or she writes.”

I don’t remember who wrote those words, but they triggered an “Aha!” moment that still makes me laugh.

Suddenly it all came clear: “To become a writer, I don’t need to write world-class stuff. I simply need to WRITE! Hoo-ha! There’s an amazing idea! OK, here we go!” And so it has been ever since.

I blush to confess it, but I’ve had to relearn that lesson in recent years as I’ve begun aspiring to be a poet. It’s taken me a while to realize that this does not mean I need to be as good as Mary Oliver or William Stafford. A poet, I suppose, is distinguished by the fact that he or she writes poetry!

So here’s another one of my poems. In dark times, I often find solace at the ocean. But somehow, the Atlantic in winter brings me more peace than balmy breezes and a blazing sun on a tropical beach. This poem comes from an experience of seeking consolation on “the February shore.”

“The February Shore”
by Parker J. Palmer

Let this stillness settle on
the surface of your mind—

The figured sand, its fossil prints
and hieroglyphs held fast in memory of ice…

The surf-flung pools framed here and there
as mirrors to behold the shining day…

The ice-glazed rocks that lose their weight
while floating in mirage of glancing sun…

Upon that sea of cold foreboding blue
a second sea of sequined, dancing fire…

Over all, the silken air,
the seamless and forgiving sky…

Now let this ocean breathe for you,
beat your heart and pump your briny blood,
heave your sighs and weep your sea-salt tears
that flow beyond the rim of earth
farther than your anxious eye can see—
while under all, incessant surf
insists on letting go and letting be.

Share Post


is a columnist for On Being. His column appears every Wednesday.

He is a Quaker elder, educator, activist, and founder of the Center for Courage & Renewal. His books include A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life, and Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation. His book On the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity, and Getting Old will be published in June.

Share Your Reflection


  • Kelli Grenoble

    Thank you for being a writer and a poet. Your written words have lifted me.

  • Ana Catarina

    Thank you for these words. I needed to read it just about now. I’ve been labouring towards my academic research, in the past year, under the misconception that I needed to be praise by a number of people. I forgot that my only job is to do research as well as I can and to write my findings. Once again thank you.

  • Erika Munson

    I am a teacher. I read this poem before the sun came up in the quiet of my office at the school library, Thank you. Today I’ll let the ocean heave my sighs and weep my tears. Ah.

    • CrummyVerses

      And thank you for being a teacher. My dad was a “teacher” (re Palmer’s definition, I guess I could say) who couldn’t learn how to “let the ocean.”

  • Please keep sharing your poems.

  • Gabby

    What an important message. If a person is drawn to a creative pursuit, he should just do it if it brings him joy. He doesn’t even need to share it.
    We can all call ourselves what we like along artistic lines.

  • CrummyVerses

    “A writer is distinguished by the fact that he or she writes….” and the same for “poet”…well, what about “lover?” Many of us find despair more than love in our hearts these daze (sic). But still, still, there’s at least a portion of love leftover.

  • Doug Barr

    I wanted to be a hockey player or a football player. I had to repeat my last year of high school for failing English courses so writing never crossed my mind. However, while trying to figure out life I had to write to keep track of my thoughts. I began publishing my analysis with prose posts but when I discovered I could rhyme my thoughts I changed to poetry because reason in rhyme is more memorable, not because I wanted to become a poet. I’m still just an analyst.

  • Joanna

    This so beautiful! Thanks for sharing.

  • Liz Burkemper

    I feel a warm kinship with you as another aspiring, struggling writer. Thank you for your wise words of encouragement. I am most appreciative of your bravery in sharing your words. One of my good friends and mentors told me that writing is for personal and social waking up — it doesn’t matter that you’re good, only that you do it, and choose to share it with others when you can. Thank you for sharing with us.

  • Julie

    Thanks for your insights which sparked an “aha” moment for me too. I’ve always loved poetry and never thought of writing it until last spring when I started writing and found that I could not stop. I decided to take a poetry class and after that my poetry writing dried up — I now understand why. And by the way I loved reading your poem — felt like I was sitting on the February shore.

  • Cynthia McGean

    I teach 3rd grade at a Title 1 school. These are troubling times and writing poetry has been one of my methods of coping. Another has been your writings, from COURAGE TO TEACH to HIDDEN WHOLENESS. Thank you for being a voice that unifies activism, contemplation, progressive Christian thought, the heart of an educator and the soul of a writer all in one.

  • Sandy Brown Jensen

    Beautiful insight and nicely metered poem that I love a lot! I’m not going for the Victorian word “behold” when “reflect would do a more modern and better job.
    Great “dismount”!

  • Luke Concannon

    Wonderful work Parker! Such vivid attention to the beauty and strangeness of the scene, thank you for daring to share it.

  • Annie Lu Belaney

    Love your poem Parker! I too flee to the ocean for hope and solace! Thank you for writing!

  • Heidi H.

    This is beautiful, Parker! Thank you for sharing. I rarely get to the ocean, but when I do, I breathe deeper than any other time. I love the final phrase, “…while under all, incessant surf insists on letting go and letting be.”

  • Ann M. Frensley

    Thank you for sharing. I, too, write. And it seems to me that as long as I do not think to compare my words and efforts with those of others, mine are sufficient and good because no one else has my perspective. I am grateful for your perspectives, Parker. Blessings.

  • Anne Jolles

    This is beautiful. I think Grace Trail would resonate with you and your readers.

  • Beautiful. It really is that simple: “A writer is distinguished by the fact that he or she writes.” Thank you for sharing this.