For many, many years there has been a poem by Robert Frost that has always been in the back of my mind, its words sitting there patiently, waiting for me to finally understand them and the meaning I’ve always sensed they had for me. I originally read it in college and dog-eared the page in my book of Frost’s poetry that I have sitting here next to me as I write this post. I forgot about the poem for a long time after graduation, and then it resurfaced when I came across the final stanza in the introduction to a book by Wallace Stegner called Crossing to Safety. That was probably 20 years ago. It happens to be one of my five favorite books, but that’s a post for another day. The poem is called “I Could Give All To Time,” and it appeared in the collection entitled A Witness Tree, which won the Pulitzer in 1943. I’ve always thought it was rather telling that Frost wrote this particular group of poems after he’d suffered several personal tragedies, one more devastating than the next, and yet still managed to find hope and love again in their aftermath. The final stanza reads as follows:
I could give all to Time except – except
What I myself have held. But why declare
The things forbidden that while the Customs slept
I have crossed to Safety with? For I am There,
And what I would not part with I have kept.
As I look at these lines now, I wonder what it was that prevented me from understanding them for so long. I think the answer has to do with the fact that I was focused on the ultimate crossing to safety that eventually happens for all of us, and I was not ready to face the question as to what I would keep when that day came. It may very well be what Frost intends for us to answer, especially if we consider his capitalization of specific words in these lines that certainly lends significance to them, as well as a definite religious connotation. What if we, for the moment, remove the capitalization and reflect on the idea that we actually cross to safety multiple times in our lives? What is a crossing, after all, except the act of moving through a particular juncture, whether it be as simple as painted lines on a busy street, or as complicated as the border between countries? In either case, there is a sigh of relief when we arrive on the other side, completely intact, and still carrying the things we possessed when our journey began.
What if every truly turbulent time in our lives can be viewed as a crossing of sorts? We all know from experience that we have stood on borders like these many times, ready to cross, and then have felt ourselves move through each juncture to find safety and quiet on the other side of a difficult situation. We have all had the realization that we cannot allow customs to confiscate all that we carry, if we are to learn anything at all from what we’ve just experienced. The decision as to what we keep, however, is what’s crucial, and it must be wise, because we cannot go back and ask for something that’s been taken, nor can we declare something that we wished we had not carried with us. In any situation that has caused us pain, we must be careful not to bring hurt or resentment forward into what is next, but rather to surrender them to customs and leave them at the border. What we can carry forward, however, is the understanding that comes from accepting the extent to which we were complicit in what hurt us, and the subsequent realization that we will never put ourselves in that kind of harm’s way again. And so we cross, and we come to safety.
It may take us several times to get this right, but eventually we land in a place where our hearts are truly safe, and that is where we will remain until the final crossing comes. When it does, we will decide once again what we’re willing to give to Time, and what we ourselves will keep and bring with us into the next life. Whatever we take will be what helps us navigate our path when it begins anew, because we will have known these things before, and we will recognize them. Their familiarity will guide us once again to safety. I find that I have arrived at a place in my life where I am no longer daunted by the prospect of saying what I would cross to safety with. I’m ready now to do so. I would keep the understanding I have gained about my parents and the insights I have learned about myself. Both have made me who I am. I would keep the feeling of all the homes I’ve ever lived in and the love that I learned in each of them. I would keep moments of great significance that truly moved me, and a photograph in my mind’s eye of an ordinary day as a mom of three children, when the world began and ended with one another. I would keep memories of a certain look and a certain voice and the way in which they changed my life in a matter of seconds. I would keep hope, so that I would remain open to all of life’s possibilities, and faith, so that I would remember that there is a plan that needs allowance to unfold, even though the process of it may hurt at times beyond measure. And I would keep love, always, for without it our hearts are empty, seeking, and in grave danger. It is the very thing that we often think causes us pain, until it pulls us from our darkest day and makes us realize how very wrong we’ve been.
For today’s cocktail, I began with tequila because it represents different things to different people, and I wanted it to serve as a reminder that the things we’d cross to safety with are extremely personal. I added Aperol for its beautiful pink color that starts out sweet and finishes with that unmistakeable bitterness that all the Italian apertivos have. The things we keep are often both bitter and sweet. Watermelon juice brings joyous memories for most of us, all on its own, without much thought. Lime juice, on the other hand, can only be appreciated when paired with other ingredients. It requires a totally different perspective. Rosemary is for remembrance, of course. The chili bitters represent passion, the rosewater, hope and new beginnings, and the baby’s breath in the photo symbolizes the undying strength of everlasting love. This cocktail definitely takes us on a journey with an unusual group of ingredients that come together surprisingly well, so that they defy skepticism or expectations. Cheers everyone. Happy Friday. Thank you so much for reading. What is it that you would keep?
What Would I Keep?
2 oz Espolon tequila blanco
½ oz Aperol
1 oz watermelon juice
¾ oz lime juice
¼ oz rosemary simple syrup
2 dashes Hella smoked chili bitters
2 dashes rosewater
Add all the ingredients to a cocktail shaker with ice and shake until very cold. Double strain into a chilled Nick & Nora glass. Enjoy!