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The Way of Being Lost

Here’s a mysterious little poem by William Stafford. I can’t tell you exactly why it has such a grip on me, but it does:

Cutting Loose
by William Stafford

Sometimes from sorrow, for no reason,
you sing. For no reason, you accept
the way of being lost, cutting loose
from all else and electing a world
where you go where you want to.

Arbitrary, a sound comes, a reminder
that a steady center is holding
all else. If you listen, that sound
will tell you where it is and you
can slide your way past trouble.

Certain twisted monsters
always bar the path—but that’s when
you get going best, glad to be lost,
learning how real it is
here on earth, again and again.

(Excerpted from Dancing with Joy: 99 PoemsRead the full poem here.)

Maybe it’s because we’re in a time of great sorrow when accepting what Stafford calls “the way of being lost” seems important, even necessary, if we are to “cut loose” from business as usual and reach for a better world.

Then there’s Stafford’s vital reminder that “a steady center is holding all else,” and if you know where it is, “you can slide your way past trouble.”

The poet also names the “twisted monsters” that always bar our path, suggesting that they need not defeat us but can prod us to “get going” amid the complex mix of horror and heroics of which reality is made.

In the final stanza, Stafford suggests that, as we “get going,” our acceptance of being lost can turn to gratitude for being lost — for if we didn’t feel lost, we wouldn’t look for a better way.

Having said all that, I still don’t know exactly why this poem grabs me as it does. But I feel certain it contains a truth that I need to understand to live in a way that’s responsive to our troubled time.

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