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Never Forget What You Can Do

For five days earlier this month, I was in California at the first On Being Gathering — hanging out with 500 good people from all over the U.S. and other parts of the world at a wonderful place called 1440 Multiversity near Santa Cruz.

This was perhaps the most diverse conference I’ve ever attended. Among other things, it was proof positive that in diversity there is a depth of understanding and at-homeness that will forever elude us when fear keeps us confined to the narrow bounds of our own “tribe.” Tribalism dumbs us down. Diversity wakes us up and moves us closer to enlightenment.

Among my many joys at the On Being Gathering was a chance to meet and talk with one of my all-time favorite poets, Naomi Shihab Nye. I should say “meet and talk and laugh with,” because she laughs a lot, and so do I.

This morning I remembered Naomi’s poem “Famous.” I now know that this poem is absolutely true to who she is. I also know that is the kind of “famous” I want to be, the kind of “famous” all of us can be.

In the midst of a world where everything needs to be done right now, we can be famous for never forgetting what we can do — refusing to be overwhelmed but persistently making our small and yet vital contribution to the common good.

By Naomi Shihab Nye

… I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous,
or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular,
but because it never forgot what it could do.

(Excerpted from Words Under the Words: Selected Poems. Read the full poem here.)

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